The famous image has become a postcard embodying the spirit of London: a naked man being escorted off the lawn of Twickenham by three bobbies English, one of whom offered his helmet as a cache-sex. This shot popularized the figure of the streaker, seemingly harmless individual who likes to disrupt football or rugby matches, looking for a moment of glory quickly tackled to the ground. This spring has seen the flowering of a new kind of disruptors on the lawns. Not come to show their buttocks, but to send a message related to climate change or animal welfare.
In March, four English Premier League games were disrupted by these intruders. At Everton-Newcastle, Louis McKechnie belts his neck to a goal post. The 21-year-old keeps a straight face as the 40,000 fans around him grow impatient. He wears an orange t-shirt with the “Just Stop Oil” logo. From the name of the association for which he campaigns, and which fights the use of fossil fuels.
Other activists entered the meadows during Arsenal-Liverpool and Wolverhampton-Leeds. Nathan McGovern, 22, a student, disrupted the Tottenham-West Ham meeting. “It was an unreal experience, I’m a big football fan, and it was nice to go see this match, he says. It got stressful before stepping onto the pitch to interrupt the game. I know how the fans are, and the insults you can receive. I was afraid of what could happen, but I’m even more afraid of what will happen if we do nothing for the planet.
“An investigation makes less buzz”
The following month in Germany, two climate activists also clung to the post during the Bundesliga match between Eintracht Frankfurt and Freiburg. On the other side of the world, these gestures inspire. Andrew George saw the footage of Just Stop Oil activists. They gave him ideas. At the beginning of April, the 33-year-old engineer entered the lawn of Shark Park in Sydney, Australia, interrupting the National Rugby League match (rugby 13) between the Cronulla Sharks and the Wests Tigers. “I was impressed with the guys from Just Stop Oil. Rugby is the most popular sport here. The idea is that the event is filmed live across the country, plus the Sharks team is Premier Scott Morrison’s favorite. So we thought that by stopping this game our message would have an impact.
“On” is Fireproof Australia, an association which campaigns for the Australian government to respect the recommendations of the Royal Commission (a commission of inquiry created in 2020) on bushfires. “The report explains that we must increase our fleet of seaplanes to fight these fires, continues Andrew George. Some lost their homes almost two years ago, and have still not been rehoused. The government is not doing enough, that’s why I entered this field.
In the United States, Alicia Santurio tried to stick glue to an NBA floor during the game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Los Angeles Clippers. “We investigated for several years the slaughter of chickens on the farm belonging to Glen Taylor (5.3 million chickens were killed to fight an epidemic of bird flu), one of the owners of the Wolves. Only, a survey doesn’t give you enough buzz. To mark the occasion, we wanted to disrupt this match, ”explains the one who works within Direct Action Everywhere, an organization for the defense of animal rights.
Advocate “lawful excuse”
By entering the field, these activists also want to remember that sport will itself be a “victim” of the climate. Nathan McGovern, fan of Coventry City (English 2nd division), supports: “The coronavirus crisis has stopped football. With climate change, it could be the same thing. We have already seen stadiums flooded. And bodies like UEFA or FIFA have power; if they joined the fight for sustainable football, they could influence a lot of fans. Instead, they collaborate with companies related to fossil fuels. UEFA has only just abandoned Gazprom, it should have been done a long time ago.” As in October 2013, when Greenpeace activists disrupted the start of the Champions League match between Basel and Schalke by abseiling from the roof of the Saint-Jacques stadium, unfurling a banner hostile to Gazprom’s activities in the Arctic.
At the end of 2019, the bushfires in New South Wales caused the cancellation of sporting events. The following January, rugby league and the Australian Open announced a new air quality policy with measurements according to specific criteria before each match. “Droughts, bushfires, floods, it has already started. And the supporters know it, cricket, rugby, tennis, all these events have already been prevented by climate change”, plague Andrew George.
Will stadiums become places of green protest in the future? Despite his 17 days in prison following his action, Andrew George wants to continue to spread the message at sporting events. “They wanted to make an example, but I will continue to do the dirty work. Next time, I will not enter the lawn alone, ”he warns.
In England, Nathan McGovern and his buddies spent almost eight hours at the post before being released. They all pleaded not guilty because the Football Offenses Act (1991) says it is illegal to enter the field without “lawful excuse” (lawful excuse). “Our legitimate excuse is that of the right to protest, and to sound the alarm in the interest of people and the planet”, opposes McGovern, as in a rehearsal for his future trial. When told that the actions of Just Stop Oil have inspired far beyond the British Isles, he returns: “That was the goal, it has to continue.”