A group of soccer players in major European leagues have condemned plans to hold the Under-21 European championship in Israel next year, saying it will be seen as a “reward” for this month’s assault on Gaza in which young people playing soccer were killed when a sports stadium was bombed.
The signatories, who include Eden Hazard of Chelsea, Abou Diaby of Arsenal and five Newcastle players — Papiss Cisse, Cheick Tiote, Sylvain Marveaux, Yohan Cabaye and Demba Ba — also criticized Israel’s continued detention without charge or trial of two Palestinian soccer players.
Several former English Premier League players have also signed the letter, including Didier Drogba and Frederic Kanoute, both of whom now play in China. Players with Queens Park Rangers, Stoke City, Blackburn Rovers and Ipswich Town are also among the signatories, along with soccer players in France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Turkey.
The statement roundly condemns the Israeli assault on Gaza, describing it as “yet another stain on the world’s conscience” and expresses “solidarity with the people of Gaza who are living under siege and denied basic human dignity and freedom.”
It focuses on the destruction of a soccer stadium which the Israeli military said had previously been used by Hamas as a rocket launching site, but which at the time of the bombing was not.
“We are informed that on 10 November 2012 the Israeli army bombed a sports stadium in Gaza, resulting in the death of four young people playing soccer: Mohamed Harara and Ahmed Harara, 16 and 17 years old; Matar Rahman and Ahmed al-Dirdissawi, 18 years old. We are also informed that since February 2012, two footballers with the club al-Amari, Omar Rowis, 23, and Mohammed Nemer, 22, have been detained in Israel without charge or trial,” the statement read.
“It is unacceptable that children are killed while they play football. Israel hosting the UEFA Under-21 European championship, in these circumstances, will be seen as a reward for actions that are contrary to sporting values,” it added.
The UEFA Under-21 draw is scheduled to be held on Wednesday in Tel Aviv. However, the choice of Israel for the competition is facing an increasingly strong challenge from pro-Palestinian activists who say that the Jewish state actively prevents the Palestinians from playing soccer.
UEFA president Michel Platini has previously rejected pressure to move the competition out of Israel.
Eric Cantona, formerly of Manchester United, wrote to UEFA earlier this year over the detention without trial of Palestinian soccer players.
“Racism, human rights abuses and gross violations of international law are daily occurrences in that country,” he said. “It is time to end Israel’s impunity and to insist on the same standards of equality, justice and respect for international law that we demand of other states.”
The Palestinian Football Association has long protested that it cannot operate freely because of the actions of the Israeli military. Its president, Jibril Rajoub, wrote to Platini earlier this year to say that Israel was in breach of FIFA regulations because of its treatment of Palestinian players.
Platini was not sympathetic.