Pressure is mounting for this years European under 21 football tournament in Israel to be moved.
Football Beyond Borders held a meeting in London recently and have urged such action or that key nations boycott the event. England are due to play Israel on June 11 at Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium.
It is here according to Football Beyond Borders that “there is a supporters group who embody a political voice in Israeli society which is shaped by its Jewish fanaticism, aversion to Muslims and its penchant to treat arabs and other ethnic minorities within the country as inferior. There is clearly a widespread belief that Israel should not be allowed to host this tournament, considering its shocking human rights record and its increasingly systematic discrimination of Palestinians.”
A number of big name players have supported the push to boycott including Fredric Kanoute, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Arsenal’s Abou Diaby have signed a petition for the tournament to be boycotted. A full blown demonstration is planned for May 24th in London, and despite assurances from UEFA President Michel Platini that the tournament will go ahead it is believed that he has secretly asked the English FA to be on standby to host the event should things escalate.
Sport can heal so many hurts it can even see nations with long histories of hostilities come together and unite for 90 minutes or as long as a game lasts and unite in the joy of the spectacle. One can understand what the games governing bodies are thinking when they award tournaments to nations such as Israel, but should such nations receive the benefit of a major sporting event such as this when they have such poor human rights records? The same question was raised leading into the European Championships with one of the joint hosts, the Ukraine. Why do the game’s administrators continually select host countries that will create a public backlash and outcry, as well as the threat of boycotts?
Football in Israel has had a chequered history, in the main suffering because of the politics of the region. It competed in the Asian Football Confederation from 1954-1974. Then several Muslim states refused to compete against Israel. This political situation culminated in Israel winning the 1958 World Cup qualifying stage for Asia and Africa without playing a single game. FIFA then scheduled a playoff between Israel and Wales to make sure that the team did not qualify for the finals without playing at least one game; they lost to Wales.
In 1974, Israel was expelled from AFC. The country then played the majority of their matches against European teams, and competed in the European stage of qualification for the 1982 FIFA World Cup. For the next two tournaments, they entered Oceana’s qualification stage.
In 1994, Israel received full UEFA membership, 20 years after they had left Asia. In Europe, they remain a relatively minor nation in football terms. There are still many who feel that they have no place in Europe and the boycotting of the tournament later this year could well see them out in the cold again.
Interestingly, the presence of the Israeli Football Association in UEFA was a precedent cited by Australia to strengthen its request to transfer from the Oceania Football Confederation to the Asian Football Confederation. One has to ask if Israel were to be expelled how secure would Australia’s position in Asia remain?