SOCCER:Footballers 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 football were killed when a sports stadium was bombed.
The signatories, who include Eden Hazard of Chelsea, Abou Diaby of Arsenal and Newcastle players Papiss Cisse, Cheick Tiote, Sylvain Marveaux, Yohan Cabaye and Demba Ba also criticised Israel’s continued detention without charge of two Palestinian footballers.
The Republic of Ireland failed to qualify for the finals.
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 QPR, Stoke, Blackburn and Ipswich are among the signatories along with footballers in France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Turkey.
The statement 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 then focuses on the destruction of a football 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.
The Uefa Under-21 draw is scheduled to be held on Wednesday in Tel Aviv. But the choice of Israel for the competition is facing an increasingly challenge from pro-Palestinian activists who say that while the Jewish state has an equal place among footballing nations, it actively prevents the Palestinians from having one.
Uefa’s 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 footballers.
“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 president, Jibril Rajoub, wrote to Platini earlier this year to say Israel was in breach of Fifa regulations because of its treatment of Palestinian footballers. Platini was not sympathetic.
“You know better than anyone that it is not by punishing people and isolating them that we achieve our aims. It is through dialogue that solutions are found,” he replied.