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UEFA should cancel football tournament in Israel, says former French sports minister

Former French sports minister Marie-George Buffet has asked European football’s governing body to cancel its plan to hold this year’s under-21 championship in Israel. In a 7 March letter to UEFA president Michel Platini, the member of parliament argued that Israeli restrictions on freedom of movement for Palestinian athletes, and the groundless incarceration of f

Former French sports minister Marie-George Buffet has asked European football’s governing body to cancel its plan to hold this year’s under-21 championship in Israel.

In a 7 March letter to UEFA president Michel Platini, the member of parliament argued that Israeli restrictions on freedom of movement for Palestinian athletes, and the groundless incarceration of football players on the Palestinian national team “are incompatible with the sport values that should be respected when organizing a major international competition.”

Israeli football racism

Also incompatible with sports values of fair play and respect is the amount of racism in Israeli football. In January, Ali Abunimah addressed racism in Israeli football on his blog. He quoted Haaretz:

Only in Israeli soccer can a club block Arabs from joining its ranks, and harsh violence is treated solely as a disciplinary infraction, to be handled by the Israel Football Association’s internal court. The anarchy and lack of police enforcement have turned Israeli soccer into a source of violence, racism and hatred, and has even started to attract dubious characters, who at times manage the teams.

The video above exposes the racism of the fans of Israeli Premier League team Beitar Jerusalem against a play on their own side.

Hundreds of Beitar fans leave the stadium after Zaur Sadayev — a Muslim player from Chechnya — scored a goal to protest the presence of a Muslim player on their team, as reported by the online magazine Jweekly.com.

The letter continues (translation from French original):

This plan has aroused strong emotions among many athletes – you are certainly aware of the protests by many football players – but also among the people and associations that are campaigning for justice and peace in Israel and Palestine. You are also familiar with my involvement in the promotion of sport for all in every corner of the globe, without demanding from athletes the endorsement of any political agenda.

It is this moral code that has prompted me to approach you with the request that the European Cup should not be held in Israel. I fully agreed with you in 2010 when you stated that “Israeli measures applicable to Palestinian sport constitute a breach of the international regulations and laws in force” to be a member of UEFA.

This situation, far from improving, persists today. It is a deplorable fact that Palestinian athletes are not only being denied travel permits within and outside the Palestinian territories so that they are unable to take part in competitions, but that many athletes are also frequently arrested and imprisoned. Mention may be made, in particular, of the groundless incarceration of the goalkeeper of the Palestinian Olympic team, Mr. Omar Abu Roïs, and of the Ramallah footballer, Mr. Mohammed Nmir, as well as that of Mr. Mahmoud Sarsak of the Palestinian national team, who was imprisoned on traveling from Gaza to the West Bank for a match.

You will agree with me, Mr. President and Dear Friend, that such adverse practices against athletes and a country’s right to engage in sport are incompatible with the sport values that should be respected when organizing a major international competition.

I am therefore convinced that you will be sensitive, in the name of sport and the right of all to engage in sport, to the current protests against the holding of the competition in question in Israel. I know that I can rely on your concern to ensure respect for that principle as a motive to reconsider the venue for the 2013 European Football Championship.

Warm regards,

Marie-George Buffet


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