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    Swedish Football Hooligans Put On Niqabs to Protest Mask Ban, Taunt Minister

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    In March, a comprehensive ban on wearing masks at Swedish sport arenas entered into force. A group of Swedish football (soccer) fans retaliated by launching an unconventional protest against the ban by wearing niqabs. The resourceful hooligans utilized a loophole that allowed religious headwear.

    The comprehensive anti-mask law was passed in an effort to combat violent behavior at football games. However, exceptions to the ban were made for people covering their faces in the line of duty, like policemen, or people who feel the need to cover their face for religious reasons.

    It was the latter exception that was exploited by a group of supporters of the Stockholm club AIK during their Football All-Swedish season opener against Häcken, who wore face-covering niqabs.

    All the ensuing doubt was later dispelled by the supporters themselves, who rolled out a large banner explaining their actions and lauding Interior Minister Anders Ygeman for providing them with a convenient loophole.

    "AIK ultras mean well, and we're wearing masks for religious reasons. Freedom for ultras is the goal, thanks Ygeman for the loophole," the banner read.

    Anders Ygeman, who in fact is a fan of AIK's Stockholm archrival Djurgårgen, seemed to take no offence at the jibe.

    "Frankly speaking, I believe the banner is quite funny. It shows that AIK fans have a sense of humor," Anders Ygeman told the Swedish tabloid newspaper Aftonbladet.

    Anders Ygeman went on to add that he viewed this as a single act of protest and did not expect niqabs and other religious headgear to become a fashion craze among Swedish hooligans. According to him, Swedish courts can step in, if necessary, and establish whether or not faces were covered for religious reasons and prosecute the masked men who do otherwise.

    According to Ygeman, people taunting ministers was not a problem, as there still were real problems in the stands left to tackle, like violence or people using illegal fireworks. Previously, Ygeman emerged as one of the driving forces behind the ban, arguing that "a few troublemakers" should not be allowed to "destroy the joy of the sport."

    However, Björn Eriksson, a former national coordinator on sports-related violence, was not as amused as Ygeman.

    "No comment here. One gets only tired of this…," Björn Eriksson wrote in an SMS to Aftonbladet.

    The mask ban came in response to a spate of mask-related incidents at Swedish football matches, including a match being disrupted by a masked hooligan running out onto the pitch and assaulting a goalkeeper.

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    football fans, football, niqab, Anders Ygeman, Scandinavia, Sweden
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