– Protest rally 11.00 – 16.00 FRIDAY MAY 24  Grosvenor House Hotel W1K7TN

– Ken Loach calls under21 finals in Israel “shocking” and “ill-advised”

– Author/comedian Alexei Sayle agrees with football stars: Israel staging finals gives the country unwarranted reward

– Campaigners charge UEFA with condoning entrenched discrimination

– Platini urged to meet Palestinian footballer and former political prisoner Mahmoud Sarsak

As England ‘s Under-21 team prepares for the UEFA Finals in Israel on June 5-18, campaign group Red Card Israeli Racism is charging European football’s governing body with condoning Israeli discrimination against Palestinians and has called a protest outside the UEFA Annual Congress in London on 24th May.

Filmmaker Ken Loach, who has supported the campaign for more than a year, said: “It is shocking that UEFA has ignored calls from the Palestinian Football Association and many football clubs, as well as anti-racist human rights campaigners across Europe , to reconsider its ill-advised decision. UEFA should recognise the plight of Palestinian footballers and the intolerable difficulties that are put in their way by the illegal Israeli Occupation.'”

Echoing many footballers, including Demba Ba and Eden Hazard from Europa League winners Chelsea, author and comedian Alexei Sayle said hosting the tournament was “a reward and honour” which Israel did not deserve because of “its cruel and harsh actions against the Palestinian people.”

Campaigners are calling on congress delegates to give a hearing to visiting Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak, who staged a prolonged hunger strike during his third year of detention without trial in Israel . His plight drew support from Sepp Blatter, Eric Cantona and others, leading to his eventual release last July.

Referring to the decision by renowned scientist Stephen Hawking not to join in an international conference in Israel because of its treatment of Palestinians, Red Card campaign coordinator Geoffrey Lee said: “UEFA should follow Hawking’s lead and refuse to be part of one of Israel ‘s window-dressing exercises. If we condemn racist chanting against black players in Europe , why do we condone a whole system of racism against Palestinians, created and enforced by successive Israeli governments?”

Red Card Israeli Racism is part of a coalition of groups modelling themselves on the campaign for a sporting boycott of South Africa during the apartheid era.

For further information contact:
Paul Collins – 07402 742593

Shamiul Joarder – 07813 882026

Notes for editors
*** Alexei Sayle is available for interviews via the above contacts ***

1. Protest about UEFA’s decision to hold the 2013 u-21 in Israel began soon after it was announced, with a letter to UEFA President Michel Platini from 42 Palestinian football clubs. An open letter from prominent Europeans soon followed.

2. Last June, as instances of racism and human rights abuses in Ukraine and Poland prompted UK government ministers to boycott some Euro 2012 matches, Mahmoud Sarsak’s hunger strike brought the case against Israel hosting an international tournament to world attention.

3. Last November saw an unprecedented public statement by international star Frédéric Kanouté and 51 fellow footballers, including Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Demba Ba.  Prompted by an eight-day bombardment of Gaza during which Israeli forces killed more than 140 Palestinians included a number of boys playing football, and destroyed sports facilities, the players wrote that holding the Under-21 Finals in Israel “[would] be seen as a reward for actions contrary to sporting values.”

4. Israeli discrimination against Palestinian athletes is long standing and ongoing. Jibril Rajoub, President of the Palestinian Football Association, said during Sarsak’s hunger strike, “For athletes in Palestine , there is no real freedom of movement and the risks of being detained or even killed are always looming before their eyes.” He questioned the commitment of the  Israeli government to FIFA regulations and the international Olympic charter.  Israel ‘s extensive system of racist laws is thoroughly documented.

5. Teddy Stadium, where England ’s under 21s are scheduled to play in June, is home to Israeli team Beitar Jerusalem, whose hard-core supporters recently made news for their hostile reaction to the signing of its first ever Muslim players.Moshe Zimmermann, a sports historian at Hebrew University, said, “The fact is that the Israeli society on the whole is getting more racist, or at least more ethnocentric, and this is an expression.”

6. After a period of recovery from his ordeal, Mahmoud Sarsak has been touring Europe highlighting the difficulties facing Palestinian sports people such as imprisoned fellow footballers Omar Abu Rouis and Mohammed Nimr, and top 90’s player Zakaria Daoud Issa who recently died of cancer while in Israeli custody. Many Palestinian political prisoners are currently on hunger strike. Sarsak is expected in the UK from May 24 to June 30 on a tour supported by leading members of Show Racism the Red Card, Footballers Against Racism in Europe and FIFPro. Please address requests for interviews with Sarsak to the contacts above.

7. Red Card Israeli Racism is part of a Europe-wide network of groups committed to the Palestinian call for a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel as long as it denies freedom, justice and equality to Palestinians.

8. Protesters outside the UEFA congress on Friday May 24 will include delegations from France, Italy and Belgium and will hand in petitions, letters and statements from across Europe.

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