The Premier League is England’s top professional soccer league. It has come under fire for banning a lifelong fan of the Newcastle United Football Club after discovering her personal beliefs about gender identity.
Lindsey Smith, a 34-year old Newcastle native, was abruptly informed by the team in November that her season ticket membership was being suspended pending an investigation into alleged “hate speech” found on her social media accounts.
It was eventually revealed to Smith that the club had taken issue with tweets of hers expressing the view that transgender women are not actually women and that biological sex cannot be changed. Smith stands by her right to voice such gender critical views, which she says have no bearing on her decades-long fandom and attendance at Newcastle United matches.
Yet the club moved ahead with a ban stretching through the rest of the current season and the next two, devastating Smith who lives just minutes from the stadium and has been a regular presence there since childhood.
In her defense, Smith argues that she never directed hateful speech toward any individuals or made her views known through the club itself. Yet Newcastle United appears to be monitoring fans’ private social media activity through an intelligence agency that compiles detailed dossiers on perceived transgressions.
Smith was disturbed to receive a large file of personal information the agency had gathered about her without her knowledge or consent. Civil liberties advocates have decried this “Stadium Stasi” surveillance as a disturbing invasion of fans’ privacy.
The Free Speech Union, an organization standing up for Smith, contends that the Premier League has overstepped its bounds and violated Smith’s rights. They argue that her lawful gender critical views, shared by a majority of UK citizens, should have no bearing on her inclusion in the Newcastle fan community.
The FSU is pursuing legal action against the Premier League and encouraging other fans who feel they have faced discrimination to submit information requests to their teams. This case highlights the growing challenges at the intersection of sports, free speech, privacy and transgender rights.