Move football tournament out of Israel, says growing campaign

The campaign against the staging of the European Under-21 football tournament in Israel is growing. 

After UEFA, the governing body for European soccer, chose Israel as the location for the 2013 contest, it has been the target of numerous protests from athletes, sport clubs, Palestinian solidarity organizations and former French sports minister Marie-George Buffet. More countries joined the campaign over the past few months, while Mahmoud Sarsak — the former hunger striker who has played on the Palestinian national team — has helped promote the campaign during his current European tour.


The video above by Chris den Hond shows images of a protest held yesterday, marking Palestinian Prisoners’ Day. Forty activists occupied the office of the French Football Federation (FFF) in Paris, calling for the cancellation of the tournament in Israel.

The activists demanded a meeting with FFF President Noël Le Graët to discuss the situation of Abu Omar and Muhammad Nimr, two members of the Palestinian national football team who have been held in Israel prisons. However, Le Graët refused to meet the protestors. Earlier this month, he also refused to receive Mahmoud Sarsak, who wanted to discuss the situation of Palestinian athletes.

Sarsak has paid a successful visit to France, which received widespread media attention, including coverage by national television, major newspapers and the sports publication L’Equipe. On several occasions, Sarsak repeated his call on UEFA to reconsider its choice of Israel as the location for the tournament.


DocP is an organization in the Netherlands supporting the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. In a 2 April letter, DocP called on the Dutch football association KNVB to withdraw the Dutch national team from the tournament in Israel. 

The group referred to the systematic discrimination against Palestinians in Israel and in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, as documented by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. DocP pledged to start a public debate about the location of the Under-21 tournament.


In a 9 April open letter, seven Norwegian authors called on the Norwegian Football Federation and the national under-21 team to stay away from the tournament in Israel. Norway is scheduled to play Israel in the opening match of the tournament on 6 June.

The authors refer to Israel’s treatment of Palestinian athletes in general and footballers in particular as the main reason for the growing international protests against the Israeli event. They argued that Norway should only participate in the championship if it is moved to England, the “reserve candidate” for hosting the event.


Map of Israel printed on English Football Association day programs of recent Under-21 matches.

Red Card Israeli Racism

In the UK, the Red Card Israeli Racism campaign spotted a highly politicized map of Israel on pamphlets that were distributed by the English Football Association (FA) during two recent games of the English Under-21 team against Romania and Austria. The FA has incorporated the occupied West Bank and Gaza in the map of Israel. That was despite how the British Advertising Authority had previously ruled against the use of maps implying that the West Bank and Gaza were part of Israel. 

UEFA says that it has nothing to do with politics. “I don’t do politics, I do football,” said its president, Michel Platini, last year.

His stance reminds me of the campaign against apartheid in South Africa. One slogan used by advocates of a sporting boycott against South Africa was “No Normal Sport in an Abnormal Society.” The other side responded with “Keep Politics Out of Sport.” 

Just as it was impossible to keep politics out of sport in apartheid South Africa, it is impossible to do so in the apartheid state of Israel. 




This is an excellent idea, which would indeed help M. Platini and the UEFA concentrate on football, distancing itself from politics.


Protest directly to UEFA on the occasion at its annual Congress in London on 24 May at 11 am to 4 pm, Grosvenor House Hotel, W1K 7TN.


Only Israel, which can't even acknowledge it's capital city honestly, could decide that it's in Europe rather than the Middle East.

They may be allowed, wrongly, to participate in European competition, but no country should have to send its teams out of the EU and into the heart of this human rights cesspool.


If UEFA is non political, why has it allowed Israel membership to a European event?
Holding the 2013 contest there- is a political move- which totally ignores the fact that Israel is a military occupier of neighboring territory, and the suffering of the Palestinian people living there!
UEFA are treating Israel as normal civilized country, but any search of the media, even Israeli newpapers will prove otherwise!
Take the recent Israeli sports news-where the Israel Government has refused to grant permission to 26 runners from the Gaza Strip to travel to the West Bank [Both places being part of Palestine!] to run in the first Bethlehem marathon on April 21 2013!
Until Israel agrees a peace deal with the Palestinians, UEFA should have nothing to do with them!


Though I'm an American, and therefore someone without first-hand knowledge of the importance placed on football in Europe, it seems obvious that the fact that the UEFA deals with Israel at all is the problem, and that it presents a huge BDS opportunity. Why has no one organized a campaign to boycott all UEFA-affiliated clubs, events, etc.?

Adri Nieuwhof

Adri Nieuwhof's picture

Adri Nieuwhof is a human rights advocate based in the Netherlands and former anti-apartheid activist at the Holland Committee on Southern Africa. Twitter: @steketeh