It is a habitual act during the last month. It has almost become routine: at all kinds of sporting events, contenders display some kind of message against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But this weekend, in a EuroLeague game in Lithuania, one of the teams refused to do so. It has been the Red Star of Belgrade, which has refused to hold the poster with the motto stopwar (Stop the war) in the colors of the Ukrainian flag together with the local players of Zalgiris Kaunas and the referee trio.
The response of the Lithuanian fans, a country bordering Belarus –the main Russian partner–, was a resounding whistle against the Serbian team. Even some of the Red Star players later demonstrated on social networks against their club’s decision. “The team has told us not to take the flag. I want to make it clear that I do not support war and I want peace in the world”, said American power forward Aaron White, a former Zalgiris player.
A decision that the Belgrade team justify by its intention to avoid the “politicization” of the competition. “Days before the game we already warned the Euroleague and Zalgiris that we would not allow this politicization and, therefore, we would not carry a banner with the flag of any country,” the Balkan team’s board argued in a statement.
In fact, the Red Star assures that what they did is avoid mixing the message against the war with the flag of a specific country and, in this way, stick to the official position of their country, Serbia, on the conflict in the east of Europe. The Balkan country has officially condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations, but has refused to impose direct sanctions on Moscow.
Does Red Star require teams visiting Belgrade to carry a banner with the slogan ‘Kosovo is Serbia’?
The Belgrade team does not stay here. In addition, he has asked the Euroleague to open a disciplinary procedure to “sanction the violation of the basic principles and rules of the Euroleague” which, in his opinion, involves the display of the banner against the war with the colors of the Ukrainian flag and all what happened later in the pavilion, with chants against Serbia and in favor of NATO, which for them is a “provocation”.
“Does Red Star require teams visiting Belgrade to carry a banner with the slogan ‘Kosovo is Serbia’?” the Balkan club added in a statement, referring to the former Yugoslav republic that declared independence from Serbia in unilaterally in 2008 and that has limited international recognition – the United States, France, the United Kingdom or Germany recognize it, while China, Spain, Russia or Serbia do not.
The Euroleague Final Four will be played from May 19 to 21 in Belgrade
And it is that the Balkan club believes that with the display of the banner with the Ukrainian flag “the door is opened for all Euroleague teams to use their games to promote politics.”
It also happens that this year the Final Four to decide the Euroleague title will be played precisely in Belgrade, at the Stark Arena in the Serbian capital between May 19 and 21, after the organization of the The highest continental basketball competition moved the venue, which was initially Berlin, due to the greater health restrictions due to the covid that are in force in Germany. Weeks ago, after the beginning of the Russian invasion, the Euroleague decided to disqualify its three Russian teams – CSKA Moscow, Zenit Saint Petersburg and Unics Kazan – from the competition.
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The Red Star refuses to allow its players to take a banner in support of Ukraine in the Euroleague