European football federation (UEFA) president Michel Platini has spurred Palestinian calls for a sports boycott of Israel and for moving the 2013 under-21 men’s football tournament from Israel. In the wake of Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak’s epic three-month huger strike, which prompted many in the sports community to condemn Israel’s repression of Palestinian athletes, Platini told the Israel Football Federation that he is looking forward to a “beautiful celebration of football that, once again, will bring people together”.
The Associated Press reported that:
UEFA President Michel Platini wrote to Israel Football Association President Avi Luzon on Monday to confirm the country will stage the 2013 tournament from June 15-28 despite “a certain amount of pressure being put on us.”
“UEFA is an apolitical organization and your association earned the right to host this competition through a fair, democratic vote,” Platini wrote. “I am sure that it will be a beautiful celebration of football that, once again, will bring people together.”
The father of Palestinian national footballer Mahmoud Sarsak, who is set to be released by Israel on 10 July following a three-month hunger strike, has said that it is “unbearable” that Israel will host the tournament “while it routinely arrests, tortures, imprisons and kills Palestinians, including football players, without consequence”.
In a June 2011 letter to UEFA President Michel Platini, football clubs, managers, players and other Palestinian sporting figures based in Gaza urge UEFA not to “reward Israel for its violent repression of Palestinian rights”.
The Palestinian Football Federation recently wrote to UEFA urging the tournament to be moved. “For athletes in Palestine, there is no real freedom of movement and the risks of being detained or even killed are always looming before their eyes,” the letter argued, noting that in addition to Sarsak, Olympic squad goalkeeper Omar Abu Rois and Ramallah player Mohammed Nimr were also being held by Israel without charge.
Mahmoud Sarsak’s steadfastness has inspired solidarity actions and support from solidarity campaigners, footballers and professional bodies across Europe.
Solidarity networks in countries across Europe have written to UEFA and national football federations urging them to support Sarsak and move the UEFA 2013 under-21 tournament and held demonstrations. In Scotland, Celtic Football Club fans raised a flag in supoprt of Sarsak and a Scotland vs Israel women’s match played host to noisy demonstrations. “It wasn’t much fun being an Israeli footballer at Tynecastle yesterday. Lashed by the rain, barracked by pro-Palestinian demonstrators – and seven goals down at half-time,” complained one of the Israeli footballers. Demonstrations and meetings with football federation officals have taken place in cities across France.
As The Electronic Intifada reported on Monday, support has come from Fréderic Kanouté and two dozen other athletic stars, football legend Eric Cantona and FIFA President Sepp Blatter, and FIFPro, the international association of professional football players. Gordon Taylor, president of the Professional Footballers’ Association in the UK, told a campaigners by email, “as the founding member of FIFPro and Executive member of the Board, we fully support FIFPro’s call for the release from prison of Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak”.
A search on the UEFA website for statements calling for Sarsak’s release does not return any results, apparently putting it at odds with FIFA and some of its member federations. UEFA could have been given the benefit of the doubt as it is currently running the major Euro 2012 tournament in Poland and Ukraine, but given that Platini has found the time to write to the Israel Football Federation, it seems more likely that Platini has joined the ranks of European officials too cowardly to criticise Israel.
An e-lobbying tool hosted by the UK Palestine Solidarity Campaign can be used to write to Platini to urge him to move the 2013 tournament out of Israel.