Poker players Olivier Busquet and Daniel Colman shared their political views at the recent European Poker Tour (EPT), but not without stirring some controversy, to no one’s surprise. The ongoing conflict between Israel and Gaza has already been the topic of some poker Twitter wars between Daniel Negreanu and Phil Collins, so clearly players’ views on this controversial topic are heating up.
The European Poker Tour doesn’t have an official dress code, and that became apparent based on the t-shirts some players wore at the EPT Super High Roller final table in Barcelona. With the last stage of the tournament being broadcast live online for fans around the world to watch, the fact that a couple of prominent players were wearing their political opinions on their sleeves quickly became a bigger story than the tournament itself.
Both Olivier Busquet, who would eventually win the tournament, and runner-up Daniel Colman, wore t-shirts that advocated for Palestinians, while playing out the final table for the EPT Super High Roller last week. Busquet’s t-shirt read “Save Gaza,” while Colman wore a shirt with the words “Free Palestine.”
Not surprisingly, the shirts immediately garnered a strong response on social media sites. Some of this was related to the beliefs of those watching, with anger and praise being expressed based on the feelings of each particular commenter. But others found fault with the concept of letting players wear shirts with political messages on them in general, regardless of what they were advocating for.
It’s a position that PokerStars seemed to understand, if only after the fact.
“In retrospect it was a mistake to allow them entry,” said Eric Hollreiser, head of corporate communications for the Rational Group, in a statement. “Our tournaments are designed to promote poker and poker competition and not as a platform for political statements.”
In the future, Hollreiser suggested that such attire would not be allowed.
“”Players have many channels to express their views on world politics, but our tournaments are not an appropriate place,” he said. “We will refuse entry to any player displaying political statements of any kind.”
That decision proved to be a controversial one. Commentators like CardPlayer Lifestyle’s Robbie Strazynski came out against allowing such shirts even before the tournament was over, saying on Twitter that “EPTLive is embarrassing itself by allowing Daniel Colman & Olivier Busquet to wear those t-shirts.” He went on to write an article titled “There’s No Room for Politics in Poker,” in which he pointed out that Busquet and Colman knew exactly what they were doing.
“It’s telling that they only wore those shirts on the final day of the competition, at the televised final table,” he wrote. Strazynski went on to say that players certainly have the right to express opinions on any topics they like, but that governing bodies for poker should have a rule against politics at the table.
Others, like poker writer Nolan Dalla, argued against the decision to ban future statements.
“There was nothing profane nor vulgar about either item of clothing,” Dalla wrote in a post on his website. “Frankly, the t-shirts would hardly even be noticed on the streets of any cosmopolitan city.”
Given the hot button nature of the current conflict in Gaza, players’ opinion on the issue has previously caused some controversy for PokerStars. In July, Daniel Negreanu (who is sponsored by PokerStars) shared his pro-Israel views on Twitter, a move that led to days of debate between him and some of his more than 300,000 followers, including Â fellow pro Phil Collins.