FIFA anthem move hits sour note

Cape Town – FIFA officials and the Local Organising Committee for the 2010 Soccer World Cup are deadlocked in crisis talks on possibly banning the use of national anthems at the start of World Cup games.

The potentially shocking move comes after a High Court bid to ban struggle song “Kill the boer” prompted FIFA to study more closely any potential inferences that may mar the spirit of the tournament.

Sources at FIFA told News24 that the football body wanted to avoid any potential embarrassment during the World Cup.

Hate speech laws

A detailed study last week of the literal English translations of several anthems opened a potential minefield for the LOC, sparking fears that certain lyrics may incite hate speech and fall foul of South Africa’s hate speech laws.

The French anthem in particular set off alarm bells. The anthem’s refrain translates as: “Grab your weapons, citizens! Form your battalions! Let us march! Let us march! May impure blood water our fields.”

Portugal’s call to arms “on land and sea, to fight for our homeland, to march against enemy guns….” also raised eyebrows.

FIFA also singled out Germany; Italy; The Netherlands and Poland as having potentially provocative anthems. The body is in the process of wading through each participating country’s anthem.

“Banning the singing of anthems at matches is a last resort, but unfortunately at this stage we feel that we just can’t take the risk. Recent developments have shown how much people read into lyrics, and how they’re perceived.

“We’ve also seen the volatile response it invokes and we just can’t chance that,” the LOC’s Nkosi Bhola told News24. “Hate speech has become an incredibly sensitive issue in recent weeks, and the potential for that to spill over could be devastating for fans.”

Praise singers

Following widespread dismay from many of the football associations taking part in the World Cup when the issue was raised, FIFA offered a compromise solution of praise singers for every team, should the ban go ahead.

“We believe it would be fitting given that it will be the first World Cup to be held on African soil. The praise singers, of course, will be tailored to the various countries they’ll be representing. However, I can’t reveal yet how it will work. Let’s just say it may be a pleasant surprise for some,” Bhola said.

The move to use praise singers was cautiously welcomed by football associations on the rest of the African continent. “We believe it’s a fair compromise, and that it adds a little bit of African flavour to the event,” the Nigerian football association said in a statement. “It will also go a long way towards making the Soccer World Cup Africa’s own.”

Others, when approached by News24, were not as effusive. “This must be the most ridiculous suggestion I’ve ever heard. Since when can one not sing your own national anthem at a world sporting event? I can understand not wanting to incite violence, but surely one has to draw the line somewhere?” said a source within the English camp, who did not want to be named.

The ANC Youth League refused to comment when contacted by News24, saying they didn’t speak to desktop activists.

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