UEFA banned rainbow adverts at Euro 2020 venues in Russia and Azerbaijan, Volkswagen claims

Rainbow flag inside the stadium during the UEFA Euro 2020 game

Volkswagen has claimed that UEFA blocked the company from using rainbow-coloured banners on advertising boards at the Euro 2020 quarter-finals in Russia and Azerbaijan.

The auto-maker, a years-long sponsor of the football competition, alleged that the governing body voiced “concerns with regard to the legal framework at the venues in Russia and Azerbaijan”.

UEFA had approved pitch-side rainbow advertising from a raft of companies for all eight of the round of 16 matches in the Euro 2020 tournament.

But Volkswagen officials told The Athletic that UEFA blocked them from extending its rainbow-hued LED advertising boards to St Petersburg and Baku, a decision the German company says it “regrets”.

“Volkswagen took a clear stand for diversity with the colouring of the advertising banners in the round of 16 games throughout Europe,” a spokesperson said.

“To continue to openly and consistently demonstrate this open-minded outlook when it comes to respect and equal rights, the plan was for our rainbow banners to be displayed again in the upcoming quarter-final games in St Petersburg, Munich, Baku and Rome.

“Due to concerns of UEFA with regard to the legal framework at the venues in Russia and Azerbaijan, the association informed us that it was not possible to use rainbow-coloured banners on the advertising boards in St Petersburg and Baku.

“We regret this development. Regardless of this, the LED advertising boards will be used as a colourful statement of diversity and respect in the two remaining quarter-finals in Munich and Rome and, if possible, in the remaining games of the tournament.”

UEFA ‘fully supports tolerance’

It’s the latest flashpoint in UEFA‘s increasingly shaky relationship with the LGBT+ community after it denied Munich officials’ request to light up the Fussball-Arena Munich in the colours of the Pride flag in response to Hungary’s anti-LGBT+ law.

The lighting request was meant to be a defiant statement against Hungarian lawmakers passing a law last month that bars the “promotion” of LGBT+ people to minors in schools, the media and advertisements.

The Allianz arena lit with rainbow colours for Christopher Street Day, 2019

The Allianz arena in Munich lit with rainbow colours for Christopher Street Day, 2019. (AFP via Getty/ DPA/ TOBIAS HASE)

Such a show, UEFA said, was too “political”. The administrative body denied the city’s request, touching off a wave of backlash from city officials and activists alike.

Nevertheless, UEFA representatives told The Athletic that the organisation “fully supports the display of such messages of tolerance and respect for diversity”.

They stressed that the decision to block Volkswagen from displaying rainbow LED displays was to “comply with local legislation”.

“UEFA will however continue to highlight its fight against all types of discrimination through its Equal Game campaign across all stadiums in all remaining matches,” the spokesperson said.

“All other sponsors decided not to use rainbow artwork any longer in the tournament, with pride month having come to an end.”