Win for campaigners in Hampden Saltire ban row

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By a Newsnet reporter

London Olympic Chiefs have backed down in the row over whether the Saltire should be allowed to fly over Hampden Park during the London Olympics.

In a statement issued today, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games [LOCOG] announced that the Saltire will be allowed to keep its normal pride of place above the country’s national stadium when eight Olympics football matches are held there this summer.

Olympic Chiefs were forced to capitulate after news of the ban caused outrage across Scotland.  The ban resulted in a campaign spearheaded by SNP MEP Alyn Smith, who described the threat to remove the Saltire from the home of Scottish football as “ridiculous”.

Today Alyn said he was “delighted” that Games chiefs had decided to change their policy and drop the ban.

He added: “This move shows commonsense by the organisers and is wholeheartedly welcome.  It shows they are prepared to listen and that is something to be commended.”

“Of course, the Saltire should never have been banned in the first place, but better late than never.”

Mr Smith also praised the Scottish fans who had taken time to protest, saying: “Many of them quite rightly found the ban insulting – Scotland’s national flag normally flies above Hampden for 365 days of the year and to have removed it would not only have gone against long standing tradition, but also have made a mockery of the Olympic ideal of international companionship and respect

“Everyone who signed the petition online and raised their concerns with the games organisers deserves huge congratulations.  Without that fan pressure the Saltire would have surely been removed from our national stadium this summer.  

“Let’s hope that everyone in Scotland can now enjoy the Olympics in the knowledge that our distinctive sense of nationhood and identity are being fully respected.”

Under the original terms and conditions of games ticket sales, those attending the Olympic football events at Hampden Park, Glasgow were also banned from taking the Saltire into the ground.

However, following pressure from Mr Smith this ban was also revoked.

In his letter to Games Organiser Chief, Lord Coe, Mr Smith wrote:

“The Saltire is not a political emblem.  It is thought to be the oldest national flag in Europe and is held in the highest regard by all living both within and outside Scotland.  It is a symbol of Scots pride, patriotism and internationalism – all qualities, of course, also associated with the Olympics.”

Games bosses originally claimed that the Saltire could not be flown because games rules only allowed national flags of participating nations to be flown at stadia during games events.  As Scotland does not participate in its own right but as a member of Team GB, they said that the Union Jack had to be used instead.

However, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic (LOCOG) changed its mind on the ban after Alyn wrote to its Chairman, Lord Coe, highlighting an exception made for the 1992 games which took place in the Catalan capital Barcelona.

On that occasion, the Catalonian flag was paraded around the stadium at the opening ceremony and given equal status with the Spanish one, while the anthems of both Spain and Catalonia were played.

Alyn added: “This precedent proved that the ban on the Saltire was not necessary and it could remain over our national stadium for the duration of the games.”

A spokesperson for LOCOG confirmed to Alyn: “We are delighted to confirm that the Scottish flag will be flying from Hampden during games time.

“Scottish fans are more than welcome to bring and fly both Scottish and British flags.”

 The win for campaigners follows news that hundreds of thousands of tickets for the eight football matches remain unsold.  The five women’s and three men’s matches have failed to attract fans and there are concerns that Hampden may be virtually empty for some of the games.

There has also been criticism of the amount of London Olympic contracts awarded to Scottish firms with UK Government pledges of a benefit across the UK not being met.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland this morning, journalist Martin Hannan claimed that Scottish firms had been awarded only a fraction of their proportional entitlement and that the nation was losing out to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds.

Other commentators have claimed that some sectors had lost out on an equivalent of eight years of funding due to lottery money being diverted to the South East of England.