LONDON: European football delegates to UEFA Congress in London on Friday will be met by protesters against the hosting in Israel of next month’s European under-21 finals writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
Filmmaker Ken Loach and comedian Alexei Sayle are among supporters of the campaign group Red Card Israeli Racism which is organising the demonstration.
Attempts over the last two years by presidents Jacques Rogge of the International Olympic Committee and Sepp Blatter of FIFA have failed to ease restrictions by Israeli security authorities on athletes and equipment bound for Palestine.
Loach said: “It is shocking that UEFA has ignored calls from the Palestinian Football Association and many football clubs, as well as anti-racist human rights campaigners across Europe , to reconsider its ill-advised decision.
“UEFA should recognise the plight of Palestinian footballers and the intolerable difficulties that are put in their way by the illegal Israeli Occupation.'”
Some 51 high-profile players, including Chelsea’s Demba Ba and Eden Hazard, have criticised the hosting award.
Campaigners want congress delegates to give a hearing to visiting Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak, who staged a prolonged hunger strike during his third year of detention without trial in Israel .
His plight drew support from mainstream sports authorities ahead of his eventual release last July.
The Israel/Palestine issue recently prompted scientist Stephen Hawking not to join in an international conference in Israel.
Red Card campaign coordinator Geoffrey Lee said: “UEFA should follow Hawking’s lead and refuse to be part of one of Israel ‘s window-dressing exercises. If we condemn racist chanting against black players in Europe , why do we condone a whole system of racism against Palestinians, created and enforced by successive Israeli governments?”
Arab opposition saw Israel expelled from Asian confederation some 40 years ago. The Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies opposed proposals to allow Israel into UEFA which went through only after the collapse of eastern Europe’s communist regimes.
Palestine is a member of the Asian confederation.
Jibril Rajoub, president of the Palestinian Football Association, has said: “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.”
Protesters on Friday hope to hand over petitions, letters and statements to delegates from some of Europe’s different nations.
UEFA has been asked for a comment.