I wasn’t going to write this blog. Two players, Olivier Busqet & Daniel Colman (him again, trouble maker), they recently played the final table of the €50k Super High Roller at EPT11 Barcelona wearing t-shirts with the messages “Save Gaza” & “Free Palestine”. They came 1st and 2nd, and as good friends they agreed on an amicable chop of the prize money, with Olivier going on to take the title. There was a little commotion on twitter but the moment came and went. They’d made their statements and initially didn’t comment or elaborate further on the slogans.
So that was an interesting side note as part of an excellent tournament, but I thought I’d pass on giving my views which were being echoed succinctly on twitter by people more eloquent than me. I don’t do succinct…
However, the day after, it was announced that PokerStars were now going to implement a ban on players displaying “political slogans” at their events. They stated “We will refuse entry to any player displaying political statements of any kind.”
The statement was as vague as it gets. What actually constitutes a political statement? A CND symbol? A Smiths “Meat is Murder” t-shirt? A Che Guevara t-shirt? A Gay Pride t-shirt? An AIDS awareness ribbon? A charity wristband? Gavin Griffin’s pink hair to raise awareness of breast cancer? All are political slogans or symbols.
I have first hand experience volunteering for an AIDS charity which was involved in intense political lobbying for its cause. The nature of almost all charities is they have to lobby, campaign and dare I say, express ‘political statements’. In my time I met MPs, Peers, Cabinet Ministers. Charities are political and would potentially fall foul of this ban.
So are these “political statements” to be banned for players on outer tables, or is it only players on feature tables, which will be broadcast on the livestream and for future TV broadcasts?
And if this ban only applies to feature tables, what then if a player is moved to the feature table mid way through the day. Will they then be told they will be removed from play if they don’t remove the clothing with the political statement?
Like in gym at school, where if you forgot your PE kit and were made to play in your underpants, will players be sitting bare chested at feature tables?
As much appeal as this has for tables featuring Liv Boeree, Vicky Coren Mitchell & Fatima Moreira de Melo, I feel it would be very unfair to all men to have the naked toned torsos of Patrick Antonius and David Williams on display.
And is a ban like this even legal? In Europe, where we have a shameful history of oppressive regimes, we have human rights written into law, so they cannot be breached on a whim. Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights covers Freedom of Expression, which includes political expression.
Some have surmised that as these tournaments are private events in private venues, therefore the organiser can set any restrictions they see fit and refuse entry for any reason they want. I would argue that as it is an event open to any member of the public, they must operate within the law. They cannot refuse admission on the grounds of race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, as this would breach discrimination laws.
Refusing admission on the basis of clothing that doesn’t breach a casino’s dress code and is legal and inoffensive, I suspect that would leave PokerStars vulnerable to being sued. Refusing admission while breaching someones legally protected right to freedom of expression surely cannot be right.
I accept that PokerStars broadcasting these ‘political statements’ may cause diplomatic ripples in some of their more sensitive markets. This is not an issue that affects the players. We have paid to participate in a tournament, the broadcast & promotional elements are secondary to the players tournament.
And as a few big names on twitter have said –
Everyone should sport a ‘political’ message or symbol at the next EPT. But no shades, right?
One thing is certain: you can expect some players to troll @pokerstars until they back down from this ridiculous position
Part of the statement released by PokerStars said “In retrospect it was a mistake to allow them entry (Olivier Busqet & Daniel Colman)”. Would they really have removed 2 players from a final table? I can only imagine the reaction to this would have been explosive and incredibly toxic for PokerStars. It would have gone way beyond the poker press and become a mainstream news story about censorship.
As far as I was concerned, the story was over, the whole episode would have been forgotten about after a short while. But now the ban is the story. And this will run & run as more people test PokerStars resolve. There are many creative, intelligent & opinionated poker players who through polite civil disobedience will give this issue longevity.
PokerStars in their heavy handed attempt to shut down this issue, have now created a rod for their own back. Are they bluffing? Will they have to fold? If an entire final table full of players turn up wearing ‘political statements’ which they refuse to remove, is the tournament over? Only time will tell…
Sport & Politics…
In 1968 at the height of the civil rights movement in America, Tommie Smith & John Carlos won Gold and Bronze in the 200m final at the Mexico Olympics, during the medal ceremony they each held a black gloved fist aloft. This iconic image was seen around the world and has since become one of the most recognised symbols of the struggle against black oppression & racism.
Smith & Carlos were expelled from the Olympics for this political statement.
Cassius Clay , the greatest boxer in the history of the sport, respected & admired around the world, but forced to live as a 2nd class citizen at home in a deeply troubled & divided 1960s America. Cassius had to deal with segregation & discrimination daily. And the legend goes, when refused service in a diner and attacked by a racist gang, Cassius took the gold medal he won at the 1960 Olympics and threw it into the Ohio River.
Then in 1967, with the Vietnam War at its height, the now renamed Muhammad Ali, takes a stand and refuses to be drafted. “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”
Ali is banned from competing for 4 years for taking this political stand.
Along with Smith & Carlos, Ali believed the civil rights issues in America and the Vietnam War, were more important issues than the sport they competed in.
Busquet & Colman used their opportunity to highlight the terrible loss of human life in Gaza. To show empathy with those suffering. They did so without bluster and without pointing the finger of blame. I thought they did this in a dignified way and showed sincere humanity & compassion. On the morning of potentially a million euro pay day, they were thinking of others living in an impossibly difficult situation.
I don’t believe they set out to offend anyone and I don’t believe anyone should have been offended.
For these to be achieved Palestine would need to be a viable functioning state living in peace with a safe & secure Israel. I see nothing controversial about wanting the conflict & killing to end. It’s only the extremists who want anything different.
Some have asked, what if others want to display swastikas or homophobic slogans. Football players aren’t allowed to show political slogans.
That’s not exactly true. For tributes, for charities, for causes, football teams often display overtly political messages.
These are acceptable, but what is not acceptable, is offensive gestures or slogans. Gestures which promote hate, incite racism, encourage violence. These are not acceptable. And these are not protected under article 10 of ECHR. We are not free to express views which incite hatred, violence or criminality.
This is not what Busquet & Coleman did.
If PokerStars act on this threat to ban players, I anticipate a large number of players will act as the community we are and resist. We are the players. The tournaments belong to us, we’ve paid for them.
We Are Poker!