Greenpeace vs. Gazprom Football Protest Stokes Row with Russia

The ongoing conflict over 30 Greenpeace activists jailed in Russia for an action in the Arctic has taken a new twist. A high-profile football game in Switzerland was marred by a protest targeting Russian state-run energy giant and major soccer sponsor Gazprom.
The Greenpeace banner unfurled at FC Basel's stadium on Tuesday night.

The Greenpeace banner unfurled at FC Basel's stadium on Tuesday night.

Foto: FABRICE COFFRINI/ AFP

Greenpeace activists unfurled a giant banner at a high-profile football match on Tuesday night, attacking Russian energy giant Gazprom and calling for the release of 30 jailed activists from the group.

The protest took place in the Swiss city of Basel during a game between the hometown team and German side Schalke 04 in European club football 's most prestigious competition, the Champions League.

Four activists unfurled the banner from the roof of the St. Jakob Park stadium, revealing Gazprom's name, logo and the words "Don't foul the Arctic," and "#FreeTheArctic30." Their message was in reference to Arctic oil and gas drilling  carried out by the state-run company -- which sponsors both Schalke and the Champions League -- as well as the arrest of 30 Greenpeace members on a Russian oil rig last month.

Spanish referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco drew up a special report because of the five-minute delay in play caused by the protest, which will be reviewed in the calm light of day, a spokesman for competition organizer UEFA said.

Schalke manager Horst Heldt declined to condemn the incident after the game, despite Gazprom  being his team's main sponsor, although he was initially unaware of its nature: "I thought at first it was some kind of UEFA action against racism or something. I have never experienced that. Well, it lasted ten minutes, and then they were gone again."

Basel are now set to face scrutiny over the ease with which the protest was carried out. The activists were able to prepare the banner unhindered before the game and then security staff could only look on as it was displayed for several minutes, before the activists climbed back onto the roof and the referee restarted the game.

Unfortunately for reigning Swiss champions Basel, UEFA's French president and former playing legend Michel Platini was in the stands watching the match in person, and is sure to take a dim view of the incident.

The 30 Greenpeace members in question, who made up the crew of the ship Arctic Sunrise, have been in police custody in Russia  for two months after two of them tried to board an offshore drilling platform operated by Gazprom  on Sept. 18. The group has been charged with piracy, and while Russian President Vladimir Putin  said he does not believe they are pirates, he did maintain that they broke international law.

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