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Feb 26, 2012

Gold Coast Utd slogan 'supports refugees'

The saga at Gold Coast United took another bizarre turn on Monday when the defiant club claimed they were highlighting the plight of refugees with a slogan that may cost owner Clive Palmer his A-League licence.

Palmer remains on a collision course with Football Federation Australia (FFA) after the club vowed to keep wearing shirts bearing the "Freedom of Speech" message that earned a breach notice on the weekend.

United CEO Clive Mensink said the words had nothing to do with Palmer's very public spat with FFA boss Ben Buckley.

He claimed they simply wanted to highlight "awareness to the broader community about the plight of refugees" and believed the slogan was "non-controversial".

Mensink said they had a "constitutional right" to use the slogan and would keep it for the remainder of the season "and possibly next season as well".

There may not be another season under Palmer's reign.

Buckley planned to reassess United's future under Palmer at the end of the season but the club's latest antics could accelerate the process.

FFA issued a breach notice after threatening to call off United's Saturday night clash with Melbourne Victory when hearing about the change to the shirts and ground signs, replacing sponsor Hyatt Regency Coolum.

Palmer is currently taking legal action against US resort giant Hyatt.

Mensink was "dismayed" by FFA's decision to issue a breach notice, saying they had "overreacted to an innocent term".

"It is public knowledge that Mr Palmer's group of companies are in a legal dispute with the Hyatt and, as a result, the club wasn't comfortable playing with the Hyatt brand on the playing strips," Mensink said in a statement.

"It was suggested internally that as a replacement, something non-controversial would serve as a message to the broader community.

"We currently have two African refugees playing for the club who have experienced what it is like to live in a country fighting for freedom of speech.

"We thought it was an innocent term as we all recognise in Australia that freedom of speech is something we all respect."

United signings Samuel Tesfagabr and Ambes Yosief - both from Eritrea - were granted refugee status by the Australian government in 2010.

"Currently we are all concerned for those in Syria fighting for their freedom," Mensink said.

"Australians have fought in world wars and other actions to protect our freedoms, there was no way we would condone any disrespect for freedom of speech.

"It is our constitutional right to embrace this message and we don't believe FFA should have the power to intervene.

"Fans and the public deserve to know and have the right to freedom of speech, and it's a slogan which will keep until the end of the season and possibly next season as well."

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