DOZENS of leading footballers have signed a statement protesting UEFA’s decision to stage the European under-21 championship in Israel next year following the country’s recent military offensive against Gaza.
Sixty-two players, including Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Arsenal’s Abou Diaby and Paris Saint-Germain’s Jeremy Menez and Didier Drogba, now playing with Shanghaï Shenhua (China), claim that Israel hosting the tournament will be “seen as a reward for actions that are contrary to sporting values.”
Israel launched an offensive in Gaza earlier this month under the pretext of “self-defence”, killing dozens of civilians in what the footballers said amounted to “yet another stain on the world’s conscience.” Israel was forced to suspend its offensive and negotiate a ceasefire, in what has been seen as a victory for the Palestinian resistance.
“We, as European football players, express our solidarity with the people of Gaza who are living under siege and denied basic human dignity and freedom,” the players said in the statement, which was also published on the website of former Tottenham and Sevilla striker Frédéric Kanouté, selected African Footballer of the Year in 2007.
The draw for the biennial UEFA tournament was conducted on Wednesday in Tel Aviv, the coastal city that was bombarded by rocket fire from Gaza.
But UEFA President Michel Platini, perhaps referring to the ceasefire, said he has no security concerns about the eight-team tournament, which will be played from June 5-18 in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Netanya and Petach Tikva.
Kanouté, who now plays for the Chinese club Beijing Guoan, was among the high-profile footballers who tried earlier this year to get UEFA to strip Israel of the hosting rights.
But Platini wrote to the Israel Football Association in June to alleging that the country “earned the right to host this competition through a fair, democratic vote.”
UEFA declined on Friday to comment on the latest protest statement.
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Statement of European football players
WE, as European football players, express our solidarity with the people of Gaza who are living under siege and denied basic human dignity and freedom. The latest Israeli bombardment of Gaza, resulting in the death of over a hundred civilians, was yet another stain on the world’s conscience.
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 football, 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.
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.
Despite the recent ceasefire, Palestinians are still forced to endure a desperate existence under occupation, they must be protected by the international community. All people have the right to a life of dignity, freedom and security. We hope that a just settlement will finally emerge.
Gael Angoula, Bastia Sporting Club (France)
Karim Ait-Fana, Montpellier HSC (France)
André Ayew, Olympique de Marseille (France)
Jordan Ayew, Olympique de Marseille (France)
Demba Ba, Newcastle United (UK)
Abdoulaye Baldé, AC Lumezzane (Italia)
Chahir Belghazouani, AC Ajaccio (France)
Leon Best, Blackburn Rovers Football Club (UK)
Ryad Boudebouz, Football Club Sochaux Montbéliard (France)
Yacine Brahimi, Granada Football Club (Spain)
Jonathan Bru, Melbourne Victory (Australia)
Yohan Cabaye, Newcastle United (UK)
Aatif Chahechouche, Sivasspor Kulübü (Turkey)
Pascal Chimbonda, Doncaster Rovers Football Club (UK)
Papiss Cissé, Newcastle United (UK)
Omar Daf, Football Club Sochaux Montbéliard (France)
Issiar Dia, Lekhwiya (Qatar)
Abou Diaby, Arsenal Football Club (UK)
Alou Diarra, Olympique de Marseille (France)
Soulaymane Diawara, Olympique de Marseille (France)
Samba Diakité, Queens Park Rangers (UK)
Pape Diop, West Ham United (UK)
Abdoulaye Doucouré, Stade Rennais Football Club (France)
Didier Drogba, Shanghaï Shenhua (China)
Ibrahim Duplus, Football Club Sochaux Montbéliard (France)
Soudani El-Arabi Hilal, Vitoria Sport Club Guimares (Portugal)
Jires Kembo Ekoko, Al Ain Football Club (United Arab Emirates)
Nathan Ellington, Ipswich Town Football Club (UK)
Rod Fanni, Olympique de Marseille (France)
Doudou Jacques Faty, Sivassport Kulübü (Turkey)
Ricardo Faty, AC Ajaccio (France)
Chris Gadi, Olympique de Marseille (France)
Remi Gomis, FC Valenciennes (France)
Florent Hanin, SC Braga (Portugal)
Eden Hazard, Chelsea Football Club (UK)
Charles Kaboré, Olympique de Marseille (France)
Diomansy Kamara, Eskisehispor Kulübü (Turkey)
Frédéric Kanouté, Beijin Guoan (China)
Anthony Le Tallec, AJ Auxerre (France)
Djamal Mahamat, Sporting Braga (Portugal)
Steve Mandanda, Olympique de Marseille (France)
Kader Manganne, Al Hilal Riyad Football Club (Saudi Arabia)
Sylvain Marveaux, Newcastle United (UK)
Nicolas Maurice-Belay, FC Girondins de Bordeaux (France)
Cheikh M’bengué, Toulouse Football Club (France)
Jérémy Menez, Paris Saint-Germain Football Club (France)
Arnold Mvuemba, Olympique Lyonnais (France)
Laurent Nardol, Chartres Football Club (France)
Mahamadou N’diaye, Vitoria Sport Club Guimares (Portugal)
Mamadou Niang, Al-Sadd SC (Qatar)
Mbaye Niang, SM Caen (France)
Fabrice Numeric, FK Slovan Duslo Sala (Slovakia)
Billel Omrani, Olympique de Marseille (France)
Lamine Sané, FC Girondins de Bordeaux (France)
Mamady Sidibé, Stoke City Football Club (UK)
Momo Sissoko, Paris Saint-Germain Football Club (France)
Cheikh Tioté, Newcastle United (UK)
AdamaTraoré, Melbourne Victory (Australia)
Armand Traoré, Queen Park Rangers FC (UK)
Djimi Traore, Olympique de Marseille (France)
Moussa Sow, Fenerbahçe Spor Kulübü (Turkey)
Hassan Yebda, Granada Football Club (Spain)
From the website of Frédéric Oumar Kanouté