UKLFI: Supporting Israel with legal skills

Sponsor and fan backlash over Forest Green Rover’s Palestinian Flag Flying

A sponsor has pulled out of a sponsorship deal with Forest Green Rovers Football Club (FGRFC) and several fans have hit out at the club following the flying of a Palestinian flag and anti-Israel campaigning at football matches.

This development has emerged following UKLFI’s complaint to Dale Vince, chairman of FGRFC, pointing out that flying the Palestinian flag and using pitchside advertising boards to condemn Israel breached the club’s own charter, as well as other football regulations. [see previous article]

Hownd, an ethical petcare brand has pulled out of its sponsorship deal with FGRFC asserting that FGRGC is in clear breach of the FGR Club charter and also in breach of the Sponsorship Agreement.

Mark Hirschel, founder of Hownd, attended a match last April with his sons, and was shocked to see the Palestinian flag flying at the game. Soon after, Dale Vince, chairman of FGRFC, posted comments on Twitter explaining why he chose to raise the Palestinian flag at the game. He wrote: “We flew this flag at FGR’s game today. In solidarity with Palestine. The conflict there has all the same ingredients as the one in Ukraine - invasion, occupation, murder of civilians, destruction of homes and hospitals - and sieges.”

Two weeks later, the Palestinian flag was raised again and at the end of the match in front of the crowd, Dale invited Husam Zomlot, Head of the Palestinian Mission to the UK onto the pitch for an interview discussing how he and the club completely support their cause. Pitchside advertising boards contained the slogan: “End the invasion and occupation of Palestine.”

Mark Hirschel, founder of Hownd said: “As a brand, we have a duty of care to our own customers and would never knowingly support a cause which creates friction with respect to race, religion or gender equality.”

Hirschel said that according to his sponsorship agreement termination could occur “as a result of any act or omission by the other party the party reasonably considers that the image or reputation of the party has been, or is likely to be, (if such breach were repeated), materially adversely affected.”

Hirschel commented: “Dale Vince has failed to take into consideration the thoughts, feelings and resulting divisiveness of fans, sponsors and anyone else connected to the club. Up until the day Dale decided to raise the Palestinian Flag at the match against Oldham on the 18th of April - I was also a brand sponsor of the club on a 3 year deal. We were the exclusive pet food partner of the club as HOWND is a 100% plant-based brand and we loved the synergies with regards to both our 'green' credentials.”

Dale Vince’s actions at the club have created division amongst the fans. On the official fans’ forum some expressed support for Vince’s stance while others thought it had no place in football.

The Forest Green Rovers Forum, where fans can post their views, shows some fans opposing the idea of flying the Palestinian flag.

Kentstripe wrote: “Dale Vince is of course entitled to his own views however I'm personally not keen to see the football clubs name being used for this as in my opinion geopolitics and football shouldn't mix, and it could very easily overshadow the positive eco messaging.”

Kentstripe wrote: "I cannot see any benefits to the club having its name used in this, it will make zero difference to the conflict itself but will alienate potential fans and sponsors in this country, whilst also potentially diluting the green message. Like it or not this subject is toxic, any accusations of anything close to anti Semitism or Hamas sympathies would be disastrous for the club’s reputation.”

Foggy: “things like religion and politics are personal and should remain that, as soon as they are introduced into football then problems normally follow close behind.”

White horse rover wrote: “I think it's profoundly mistaken, and frankly (looking at the associations of that flag, and the causes, worldviews, and actions it has been used to justify and promote, over several decades), to say the least, and to be gentle, embarrassing. I know of at least one person who supports another team in League One who has said its presence in the ground has led him to decide not to attend his teams fixture at TNL, despite living and working about 20 miles away. And that despite him also being a groundhopper/92 club aspirant and never having visited TNL before. It really ought to come down, it's a symbol of dictatorship, overt and unambiguous and genocidal racism (usually expressed more clearly in Arabic than in sanitised translations into English), and terrorism. And the analogy DV makes between the Palestinian Authority/Israel and Ukraine/Russia is back to front, as Zelensky himself has pretty much acknowledged. It also risks undermining the good name that the club has, rightly, earned in numerous other areas.”

An FGRFC season ticket holder wrote to UKLFI about “…Vince’s disgraceful use of his football club to spread hateful and dangerous lies about Israel. As a non-Jew, it is an unpleasant experience attending home games knowing I might be exposed to Vince’s obsessive hatred against the world’s only Jewish state.”

FGRFC’s sponsors include Oatly, Brewdog, Superdry Studios and Foot Asylum. A full list is here.

Sam Green, director of UKLFI commented:
“While current sponsors have been encouraged by FGRFC’s bold and dedicated stance on the environment, by moving into areas beyond that FGRFC risks alienating other sponsors who like Hownd feel that their own brand identity, their own corporate social responsibility profile and corporate duties are brought into conflict with, and damaged by, FGRFC engaging in partisan political campaigns."

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