Palestinian football icons speak out against European championship taking place in Israel

Palestinian football star Mahmoud Sarsak called on international football associations UEFA and FIFA to cancel the European Under-21 championship set to take place in Israel later this year during a 22 March protest outside the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Paris.

Israel detained the Palestinian national side player for three years without charge or trial. He was released after a three-month hunger strike in protest of his detention. Sarsak was 22 when he was arrested.

The video is subtitled in French. Here follows my translation from French:

First I have to say that sport carries many values. Sport is about tolerance, about humanity. Sport means love and peace. That is the message. Like all peoples of the world, we in Palestine, we want to play sports, especially football.

Israel is a country of discrimination and apartheid. It does not stop at the destruction of homes and trees, but it also wants to break human beings, including athletes.

I am Palestinian and I have a Palestinian passport just like Omar Abu Rouis and Muhammad Nimr who have also been imprisoned. And there is Zakaria Issa, who was also a footballer and was detained. He died of cancer in prison because of lack of care.

You should know that during the war against Gaza in 2008-2009 all sport facilities were destroyed. Several great athletes from Gaza were killed and the building of the Paralympic committee in Gaza was bombed. Mohammed Al Araby here is a witness.

Not only the Palestinian National Stadium in Gaza was bombed, but also that of the city of Rafah.

I will speak on behalf of all Palestinian athletes who live in the West Bank, in Gaza, in Jerusalem or those inside Israel who also suffer from apartheid. We want to use the opportunity of our visit to France to send a message to Michel Platini, to the president of FIFA Joseph Blatter and their employees, to withdraw the organization of the European Cup under 20 years in Israel.

Womens’ football icon speaks out

One week earlier, Palestine’s first ever women’s captain Honey Thaljieh spoke at a sport conference 2013 in Doha, Qatar. In the video above she comments on her nomination as the latest “Champion for Peace” on 2013 International Women’s Day. 

At the conference, Thaljieh criticized UEFA for rewarding Israel the 2013 European under-21 championship by saying that the treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories should have been taken into account by the European football’s governing body, according to the Inside World Football website:

I believe in equality and when I sadly see what Israel is doing to the Palestinians, it’s very hard to understand why they have been given such an honor.

I have a lot of time for UEFA who are against racism. They know what they are doing but maybe these people should have thought more about giving the tournament to Israel because it’s like giving them a medal and that everything is fine. Maybe they should have been more sensitive.

You can support the campaign against Israel’s hosting of the 2013 European Under-21 football championship by signing the Red Card petition.




Will Mr Platini and Mr Blatter hear these voices ? Fair play is what they are asking for - the essence of sports. Sport at its best develops values of solidarity. At its worst, it panders to those who hold the pocketbook. Young people get the message.


Hopefully, Messieurs Platini and Blatter will hear these calls for actively exercising the highest value in sports : fair play. If taking a moral stand would mean losing money, what better example could they give ?


The UEFA congress meets in London on 24 May in the Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane. Football fans will converge on the hotel to demand that UEFA moves the Under 21 Finals from Israel to England. We demand that Platini puts the issue of Israeli Apartheid on the agenda and calls on the 53 delegates to vote on whether the Asian Apartheid State is wanted in European football. We would be delighted to have Honey Thaljieh come to London and lead our March

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