Michel Platini has been urged to strip Israel of the right to host next year’s UEFA’s under-21 championship because of the security authorities’ ongoing detention without trial of Palestinian footballers.
One of them, Palestinian international Mahmoud Sarsak, has been on a three-month hunger strike in protest at being held without charge or trial. Recent legal and medical visitors have described his condition as ‘critical.’
This is third political storm this year to rage around the European federation and its president who, for all his public insistence on not mixing politics and football, is becoming a lightning conductor for diplomatic controversy.
First Platini found himself enmeshed in the political complexities surrounding Turkey’s Euro and Olympic hosting ambitions; then he was overruled by FIFA and its president Sepp Blatter over his opposition to assisting football development in Kosovo; next he landed in the middle of the Tymoshenko issue tearing at Euro 2012 co-host Ukraine.
Now the intractable Middle East impossibility has landed on Platini’s hotel doormat as he enjoys the thrilling football thrown up daily by the European Championship finals in Poland and Ukraine.
Israel’s scheduled hosting of the European junior finals has been raised by Jibril Rajoub who is president of both Palestine’s Football Association and National Olympic Committee.
The context is the Middle East saga in general and attempts, in particular, by world football federation FIFA and the International Olympic Committee to persuade the Israeli security authorities to ease restrictions on the movement of Palestinian athletes both between Gaza and the West Bank and for international competition.
Sarsak is the most high-profile case but not the only one, as Jibril relates in a formal letter to Platini.
After fulminating at what he describes as “yet another Israeli transgression against Palestinian players” and a “direct violation of FIFA regulations and the International Olympic charter” Jibril says: “We ask Your Excellency to not give Israel the honour to host the next UEFA Under-21 Championship 2013.”
Israel was originally a member of the Asian confederation until being kicked out on nakedly political grounds. It was then directly affiliated to FIFA because the Soviet Union and its satellites would not countenance – also on political reasons – its membership of UEFA.
The Communist collapse opened the door for Israel to become a member of UEFA and its national team and clubs compete in all the European competitions. As such Israel has as much right as any other UEFA member to aspire to host its tournaments.
Israeli sport currently has its own recognition concerns. It wants the IOC to include a minute’s silence in the Opening Ceremony at London 2012 to mark the 40th anniversary of the deaths of Israeli athletes and coaches in the Munich Games terrorist tragedy of 1972.
Thus far, and despite some political support from the United States and Australia, the IOC has refused. Rogge has insisted that the anniversary will be marked in some other way.