Michel Platini, president of UEFA, the European football governing body,
urged those calling for the 2013 Under 21 tournament to be withdrawn from host country Israel to “let me think about it.” met with protestors urging him to cancel Israel’s hosting of the 2013 Under 21 in Israel (see update below).
less than firm statement that the tournament would go ahead in Israel as planned meeting and a statement from a UEFA official was a further sign the mounting Palestinian and international campaign against allowing Israel to host the tournament is being heard at UEFA headquarters. Platini added, “I’ll take a decision within the year.”
Platini’s spoke at a press conference (see video) in which he explained what he had told campaigners who occupied the foyer of UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland on Friday. Some were allowed to meet with Platini, as the Associated Press reported:
Protesters chanted slogans and carried banners and placards critical of Platini before some were invited into his office following a meeting of his executive committee.
Olivia Zemor, a spokeswoman for the group, said they told Platini that UEFA was “encouraging war crimes” by choosing Israel to host the eight-nation event in June. “He had no answer to that,” Zemor told reporters, describing it as a “shame to grant Israel this honor.”
Platini spent 30 minutes meeting with the protesters, delaying a scheduled news conference to report on his board’s meeting.
The video also shows the dozens of protestors from across Europe inside the UEFA headquarters.
Palestinian athletes and former prisoners, and top tier international football players have condemned the decision to allow Israel to host a prestigious international tournament in light of Israel’s apartheid-like restrictions on Palestinians, its frequent attacks on Palestinian sporting facilities, and its persecution of Palestinian athletes.
Pressure still needed
While Platini’s hesitant statement may offer hope to campaigners, the counterpressure on UEFA to proceed with the tournament in Israel will undoubtedly be immense.
It is likely that UEFA will need to hear from many more people in many more countries if it is to take the right decision.
Racism in Israeli football: Platini complicit?
An issue that has gotten little attention even from those campaigning against Israel hosting the UEFA tournament is the rampant racism within Israeli football. This reared its head in recent days when a row broke out because the manager of the notoriously racist Beitar Jerusalem football team wanted to hire two players from Chechyna.
Fans, whose frequent chant is “Death to the Arabs,” object to having Muslims on their team. The atmosphere at some games has been likened to a “Klan rally” with racism directed at Arab and black players.
Israel’s Football Association is notoriously lax and has taken no serious measures to address the problem, inaction that Haaretz condemned in an editorial last year.
The “anarchy and lack of police enforcement have turned Israeli soccer into a source of violence, racism and hatred,” Haaretz said.
Significantly, Haaretz singled out for criticism Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat, who, it said, “has proven incapable of getting rid of the rot that has penetrated Israeli soccer.”
Yet despite this, UEFA’s Platini appeared to bestow his blessing on Livnat’s incompetence and complicity when he visited Israel and opened a training facility funded by UEFA alongside Livnat.
Platini appears never to have condemned racism in Israeli football, although he has recently taken a strong stance against racism in other countries.
Update 28 January: UEFA confirms to EI that Platini still “thinking about” 2013 Under 21 in Israel
Following the initial publication of this post, it had been suggested that Platini’s “let me think about it” comment in the video was taken out of context and was in fact in response to a different question related to whether he would stand again as president of UEFA.
However, in a phone call with Electronic Intifada writer Adri Nieuwhof today, a UEFA spokesperson confirmed that Platini’s comments were in direct response to a question about hosting the 2013 Under 21 in Israel and that indeed Platini “is constantly reflecting on the decision.”
Update 29 January: What did Platini really say?
Despite a UEFA spokesman’s unambiguous affirmation to The Electronic Intifada that a final decision about the 2013 Under 21 finals in Israel is still under consideration, there is still doubt that part of Platini’s response, in the press conference, in the video at the top of this post, was related to that issue.
The edited soundbites of Platini speaking that were used in the video above were apparently selected and provided by SNTV, the “the world’s leading television sports video news agency.” The edited selections place Platini’s “let me think about it” statement at the beginning, even though they actually came toward the end of the press conference.
The full video of the press conference can be seen on the UEFA website. The question to which Platini responds “let me think about it,” is asked at approximately 33:10. It does not appear to be related directly to the 2013 contest in Israel.
Nevertheless, the fact that Platini met with protestors, and the words of the UEFA spokesman, suggest the issue of Israel’s hosting remains a live one.