Dundalk's Patrick Hoban and Mario Maloca of Hajduk Split. Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Stuart Byrne column: €18k fine for Dundalk is extreme but a punishment was merited

The Lilywhites were sanctioned by the European governing body over the weekend.

DUNDALK FIND THEMSELVES in a difficult situation this week after UEFA opted to fine the club for an incident which saw a Palestine flag appear at Oriel Park during their Europa League tie with Hajduk Split last month.

According to Dundalk, who yesterday released a follow-up statement to ask supporters to allow them to deal with the issue in the correct manner, the flag was taken down when UEFA officials asked them to do so prior to kick-off before it reappeared during the game.

If UEFA requested it and threatened to call off the fixture then they should be doing everything in their power to get it down — and it sounds like they did just that. The supporters obliged but it seems the flag came back out again in the second half.

If the club are being seen to stop it then I don’t necessarily agree with extremity of an €18,000 punishment. Had UEFA approached Dundalk and they shrugged their shoulders and did nothing about it, then it merits such a fine. But it looks to me that the club did everything they could.

I do think some sort of punishment is merited because you can’t let it go. Supporters can’t just turn up at a game and do what they want. There has to be certain rules.

The conflict in Gaza is a highly sensitive issue and the idea is that sport should remain impartial. So I do think that a warning or a much smaller fine might have been deserved but one of that size is harsh.

If you look at €18k in comparison Dundalk’s annual budget or the prize money a team in SSE Airtricity League gets for winning the title, it’s a crazy sum of money.

I was unfortunate enough to play in a game against Steau Bucharest where a team-mate was racially abused by a large part of the game by supporters. It was disgusting.

That’s an extremely offensive action, not just for players but everybody present, and they were rightly punished for it.

I’ve been at games before where supporters would roar vile abuse at particular players and I would certainly be all for having people like them banned for lengthy periods. However, this was a small section expressing their political view and making a mistake by doing so at a football stadium.

It is very hard to get away from the situation in Gaza and we see it every single day so it’s difficult for people to stand by and watch what’s going on.

It’s a harsh lesson they are going to learn and please God it doesn’t detract from their football. The club will have to manage it as best they can so it doesn’t become a really distracting issue which the players get caught up with.

I wouldn’t imagine it will and I’d nearly just accept the fine and move on. Back in 2006 when we won the league with Shelbourne, there was an awful lot of stuff going on off the field and it didn’t help at all.

So the more it’s dealt with in the background and away from the players, the better.

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