As England's Under-21 team continues its preparations for this June's UEFA Under-21 Finals, Kenny Fryde reports on how the 'Red Card Israeli Racism' (RCIR) campaign against the hosting of the tournament by Israel is shifting up a gear.
The protest group Red Card Israeli Racism will be demonstrating outside the UEFA Congress in London on 24th May, and are asking permission for visiting Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak to address the Congress. Sarsak became famous when his prolonged hunger strike during his third year of detention without charge by Israel drew support from Sepp Blatter, Eric Cantona and others, leading to his eventual release last July.
RCIR coordinator Geoffrey Lee says, “If we criticise racist chanting against black players in Europe, why do we not criticise a whole system of racism against Palestinians, created and enforced by the Israeli state?”
The group calls for the relocation of the Under-21 Finals to another country and for the suspension of Israel from UEFA until it abides by international law. It models itself on the campaign for a sporting boycott of South Africa during the apartheid era.
The campaign draws attention to last November's unprecedented public statement in support of Palestine by Frédéric Kanouté and 51 fellow footballers. Prompted by an eight-day bombardment of Gaza whose casualties had included a number of teenaged boys attacked while playing football - plus sports facilities including the national stadium – the players wrote that holding the Under-21 Finals in Israel “[would] be seen as a reward for actions contrary to sporting values”
RCIR also points out that during the Finals the England team are scheduled to play at the Teddy Stadium, home of Beitar Jerusalem FC whose notorious supporters recently made news for their hostile reaction to the signing of the team's first ever Muslim players. “Chants of 'Death to Arabs', monkey chants and throwing of bananas are routine at the Teddy Stadium,” says Lee.
Last summer Palestine FA President Jibril Rajoub urged UEFA to relocate the Under-21 Finals to another country, accusing Israel of violating FIFA regulations and the International Olympic Charter by mistreating Palestinian athletes. More recently Mahmoud Sarsak spoke out against the continued detention of fellow footballers Omar Abu Rouis and Mohammed Nimr by Israel, and claimed that the recent death from cancer of top 90's player Zakaria Daoud Issa was caused by lack of care by Israeli prison authorities.
“Israel... does not stop at the destruction of homes and trees, but it also wants to break human beings, including athletes,” he declared to protesters outside the Paris headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
For his part UEFA President Michel Platini has predicted that the June tournament “will be a beautiful celebration of football that, once again, will bring people together”, and has promised campaigners he will “see what he [can] do” about Olympic-squad goalkeeper Rouis and Ramallah player Nimr.
Meanwhile in the run-up to the 24th May Congress human rights group Friends of Al Aqsa will be holding a Goal 4 Peace 6-a-side tournament in Hackney on 19th May to raise support for Red Card Israeli Racism. Interested teams can enter Goal 4 Peace for £25 and should email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 07850 448756.
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Thanks to Rico Grimm for the image of the stone football in Ramallah, from his site 21 Millimeters, reproduced under Creative Commons licence.