It might be a small thing, it might be trivial. It probably was not even noticed by many of the millions of light entertainment viewers and sport fanatics around the world. But I observed three little images that made disturbing viewing. All three were in the context of the celebration of man’s / woman’s ability to entertain and strive for athletic and graceful perfection.
Strictly Come Dancing, the doyen of the BBC’s weekend evening light entertainment schedule, is a programme which enthrals my wife and many of my friends. On the menu last Saturday was the fantastically themed concept of “dance from around the world”. Behind the judges were the flags of every country. Every flag was draped behind the judges, with one odd addition. A Palestinian flag. Curiously, there were no other unofficial states. I wrote to the BBC to ask if the precedent they had set would be continued using other unofficial state flags such as Islamic State? After all they are an unofficial state, just like Palestine. I now eagerly await a reply. And just to advise, when complaining through the BBC’s circuitous web complaint form, don’t hold your breath for a response. They are never quick and often you have to pursue them. But don’t let that put you off.
Next to Qatar. Qatar has become a major venue for athletic excellence. Despite having almost no history in any form of athletic endeavour, this tiny state will host the World Athletics Championships, the Top World Tennis Tournament outside of the four majors, an annual World Golf Open and most notably the 2022 Football World Cup. On top of that, it is currently hosting the World Swimming Championships. Israel has had a notable success at these championships, a gold medal for the Israeli Guy Marcos Barnea.
The Qatari broadcast of the Championships put a banner up on the screen with a curious omission. We saw the winner, the winner’s name, the winner’s time, the winner’s abbreviated country name. But next to that a new and unrecognised flag. A white flag, with two blue horizontal bands, one near the top and one near the bottom. Nothing else. Of course, missing was a blue Star of David.
Whilst this is shocking, it is not without precedent. In the third example of misappropriated references, Real Madrid’s new UAE sponsors removed the Christian Cross from the top of their club crest. The Spanish (pro Madrid) newspaper, Marca, advised that the club removed it from their logo of the new £1bn Real Madrid Resort’s promotional materials (based in the UAE). Marca describes the change as a means “to avoid any confusion or misinterpretation” in relation to a project being built in a largely Muslim region. The cross in question is part of the Royal Family crest relating to the crown worn by the head of state (the name is part of the club of course, Real = Royal). Next for Real Madrid’s misinterpretation avoidance department? Well maybe replacing the “MCF” in the centre of the crest with a picture of the club president hugging a spouting oil derrick.
I wonder whether, at the 2022 World Cup, there are plans to remove other country’s religious references. Imagine, will we see the England flag as a plain white flag with the removal of the Cross of Saint George. The idea of a “white flag” and England’s football team will not be a surprise to any long suffering England fan of course. And what about a Swiss Flag without a Cross, it is just a Red Flag. That would be like a red rag to a Swiss bull. But Sepp Blatter and FIFA executive cohorts in Zurich may feel like this is a price worth paying for football’s soul (again).
Either way, these flags of convenience are a troubling trend. It is revisionist and is a strategy for eradicating other cultures and histories. In the case of the cross atop of the Real Madrid emblem, it is clearly a case of selling the soul of the football club. In the case of the missing Star of David it is denial of culture and existence. And in the case of the BBC, well, it’s just the good ol’ Beeb showing its true colours yet again.