Old video of football pitch invasion falsely linked to Israel-Gaza conflict

As the Gaza war raged on, an old video of a football pitch invader tackled to the ground circulated in Facebook posts that falsely claimed he pulled the stunt in Spain as a gesture of support for Palestinians. However, the incident happened in 2004 at a match in Switzerland. The man was reportedly holding a banner to show support for the referee.

"At a stadium in Spain, a fan supporting Palestine entered the football pitch and was beaten by police and arrested," read an Indonesian-language Facebook post that shared the video on June 6, 2024. 

In the clip, a man holding a white banner runs across the pitch before he is pinned to the ground by officials. 

"That's when security came into play," a voiceover says in Portuguese. "The four men dressed in black started beating the man dressed in white."

More people then enter the pitch and begin scrapping.

Screengrab of the false post, captured on June 27, 2024

The video surfaced in similar Facebook posts, including here, here, and here, after Spain, Norway and Ireland formally recognised a Palestinian state on May 28.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said recognition was "essential" for peace, insisting the move was "not against anyone, least of all Israel".

Israel slammed the decision as a "reward" for Hamas, more than seven months into the devastating Gaza war.

On October 7, Hamas fighters stormed into southern Israel in an assault that killed 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The Palestinian militants also took 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza including 42 the army says are dead.

Israel's relentless retaliatory offensive has killed more than 37,800 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

Portuguese referee

Keyword searches on YouTube found a longer version of the video posted on August 10, 2009 -- years before the Israel-Hamas war erupted.

The footage was filmed at a match between Portuguese team Benfica and Switzerland's Étoile Carouge in 2004, according to Portuguese broadcaster SIC Noticias (archived link).

The man invaded the pitch shortly before the end of the match to show support for the referee José Fonseca, SIC Noticias said, adding that other fans then ran onto the pitch to defend the man.

Below is a screenshot comparison between the footage shared in false social media posts (left) and in SIC Noticias' report (right):

Screenshot comparison between the footage shared in false social media posts (left) and in SIC Noticias' report (right)

A keyword search found reports on the game here and here, which confirmed it took place on July 17, 2004 in Nyon, Switzerland (archived here and here). 

Portuguese sports newspaper Record reported that the white banner the man was holding read: "Referee, the family is with you" (archived link).

While it is not clear why the man was holding the banner, AFP found no reports that the incident was related to the conflict in Gaza.

AFP has previously fact-checked misinformation around the war here.

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