Neo-Nazi Soccer Hooligans Evade Law By Donning Muslim Niqabs

A group of ultras are exploiting a religious liberty loophole in the worst way possible

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Apr 05, 2017 at 3:25 PM ET

A Swedish law banning face coverings in public places was supposed to curtail the violent antics of soccer hooligans, but a Neo-Nazi ultra group is exploiting a religious liberty loophole in the law. Ultras for the Stockholm club AIK have taken to donning niqabs—a Muslim religious garment that hides the face. Wearing a niqab is allowed under the law in question, but AIK’s ultras are notorious for their far-right, xenophobic ideology.

On Sunday, during a match between AIK and BK Häcken, the AIK ultras unfurled banners that read “AIK’s ultras mean well. We’re now wearing masks for religious reasons,” and “Freedom for ultras is the ultimate goal. Thanks, Ygeman, for the loophole,” a message aimed at the politician that fronted the legislation, Interior Secretary Anders Ygeman.

Ygeman laughed off the AIK ultras’ quippy banners and appropriation of a religious tradition, telling Swedish sports blog Sports Bladet that he found the banner “quite funny.” He added, “It shows that AIK fans have a bit of humor.” Violating the anti-mask rule could result in up to six months of jail time, but since the politician behind the law thinks it was all in good jest, the ultras are probably in the clear.

Funny enough, just a few months ago, Swedish ultras were involved in a targeted attack on Muslims and anyone they deemed foreigners. In January, right around the time Swedish lawmakers enacted Ygeman’s bill, an alliance of ultras from AIK and rival club Djurgården swarmed a Stockholm train station and attacked anyone they perceived was foreign. One ultra explained how their shared fear of brown people brought them together in a  conversation with the Daily Mail. “Our wives, girlfriends and daughters cannot feel safe in the center parts of Stockholm during the night,” said the ultra while under condition of anonymity. (Perhaps he wore a mask during his interview?) The ultra also told the Mail that the allied hooligans felt the police “are not doing their job.”

Whatever the police lacked in discernment, the ultras gladly supplied in racism. As train station worker Johanna Brixander recalls, “Most of the kids who got beaten were just ordinary people born and raised in Sweden. Their hair color just happened to not be blonde.”

Ygeman insists the ultras didn’t do anything dangerous and aren’t a threat to attack Muslims like they did two months ago. “There are still real problems in the stands,” he told Sport Bladet. “People throwing bang snaps and so on. But people poking fun at government officials in the stands? It is not a problem.”