LONDON: The choice of Israel to host next month’s finals of the European Under-21 Championship has generated strong feelings on both sides of the political divide writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

European federation UEFA always knew that the award of the finals would stir tensions linked to both the over-arching political issue and also to security.

But UEFA president Michel Platini insisted – after congress in the Grosvenor Hotel in London – that the European federation was far from oblivious to the plight of the Palestinians.

His emollient words were discounted later in the day when a group of protesters gate-crashed the official congress dinner to the confusion of guests who included David Beckham and Sir Alex Ferguson.

While placard-bearing opponents of the Israeli hosting made their noisy presence felt out on Park Lane, Platini said: “Listen, all relations between Israel and Palestine are complex. I have great respect for the Palestinian people though sometimes we have our differences.

“Israel is part of the UEFA family and has every right to host a competition. They presented their candidacy, along with other countries, and were selected.”

Turning to the political issues whose complexity he had acknowledged, Platini added: “I will not go into any issue pertaining to politics. This has been festering for a very long time and will continue to do so.

“From UEFA’s point of view we need to develop football and we have a solidarity partnership with the Palestinian Football Association and we will continue to try to strike this balance.

“Also we try to help the Palestinians to play football and they should be able to travel and have the necessary equipment. I have sent numerous letters to the President of Israel about travel permits.

“We try to do lot of things in this region but we cannot solve all the problems . . . and Israel has as many rights as anyone else to host this kind of competition.”