Football fans watching the World Cup at city pubs may have noticed one participating nation’s flag is often missing from the bunting and publicity posters.
That’s because breweries have removed the Saudi Arabian flag from World Cup displays after some Muslims in London said the Arabic text on the flag should not be displayed in places where alcohol is drunk.
Greene King, which runs about 3,000 pubs across the UK, originally put up the flags of all 32 countries taking part in the competition, which reaches its climax on Sunday when the final is played in Moscow.
But complaints were made as the Saudi flag features the shahada – a statement of faith which says: “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet.”
And the consumption of intoxicants is forbidden in Islam.
In Chester , Greene King runs pubs including The George and Dragon in Liverpool Road, The Bromfield Arms in Hoole , Watergates Bar in the city centre, The Oaklands Hotel in Hoole, Goodwins in Upton and The Peacock Hotel in Boughton.
A Greene King spokesperson said: “To celebrate the World Cup, we have been displaying the flags of the participating nations to promote what we hope will be a great tournament for all.
“Following feedback from some customers in London about displaying the Saudi Arabia flag in a pub, we understand it was inappropriate as it contains the religiously-significant Islam Shahada in Arabic and so we have removed it.”
The landlady of a Chester pub belonging to a different pub chain told The Chronicle: “We got emails and texts from the breweries starting off with ‘This is not a joke. Any point of sales you have pertaining to the World Cup that has a Saudi Arabian flag – please take down with immediate effect’.”
Frank Marnell, secretary of the Licensed Victuallers Association and chairman of Chester Pubwatch, who used to run The Watergate Inn in Chester, agrees with the desire not to cause offence to people on religious or racial grounds. But he suspect the sensitivity around the issue is because of the close economic ties between Saudi Arabia and the UK.
World Cup flags have also proved a political minefield for JD Wetherspoon who run two pubs in Chester. The pub chain has been keen to give equal prominence to the flags of all participating nations not just the St George’s Cross which led to claims it had banned the England flag.
Wetherspoon spokesman Eddie Gershon said: “Our pubs have bunting which shows all the flags of the participating countries including England.
“If a customer wishes to go into one of our pubs with an England flag, then that is fine, but we would not allow him/her to attach it to a window or anywhere else in the pub.”