Mahmoud’s career as a promising midfielder in the Palestinian national team was blighted by his arrest, interrogation, torture and three years’ detention without trial in various Israeli jails. After his eventual release less than a year ago, following a global campaign on his behalf, he has resolved to use sport as a medium to express his solidarity with all victims of oppression, focusing on political prisoners and especially those in Israel and Palestine. He explains his evolution in an interview here.
After many weeks of tense anticipation as the Mahmoud Sarsak 2013 UK Tour support group worked with friends in Gaza to negotiate hurdles thrown up by visa applications, flight arrangements and sealed borders, Mahmoud arrived in London in time to lead protests at the Annual Congress in London on May 24 of European football’s governing body UEFA.
TV footage showed Mahmoud accompanied by Jewish comedian and author Alexei Sayle as he presented petitions calling on UEFA not to hold its under-21 finals in Israel this month.
On May 28th his message was underwritten by prominent individuals including veteran anti-apartheid campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu and top-ranking professional footballer Frederic Kanoute in a letter published in the Guardian newspaper.
They draw a contrast between UEFA’s resolve at its congress in London to punish racism in football and its “total insensitivity to the blatant and entrenched discrimination inflicted on Palestinian sportsmen and women by Israel.”
Sarsak’s UK tour has taken him so far to Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle and Scotland.
The tour is supported by leading members of anti-racist football organisations Show Racism the Red Card, the FARE network, Football Beyond Borders and the Professional Footballers’ Association, plus Jews for Justice for Palestinians, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Friends of Al-Aqsa and J-BIG.
On the eve of the final match in the European under-21 competition, at 6.30pm on Monday June 17 at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, Mahmoud will be part of an expert panel exploring the impact of politics and racism in football and the role of sport as a means for Palestinians to resist discrimination.
The event will include a screening of a new short documentary from Philosophy Football, filmed days before the under-21 tournament kicked off in Israel on June 5.
As during the earlier leg of his European tour, which took him to France, Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands and Italy in March and April, Mahmoud and his message have attracted considerable media interest, especially from sports journalists.
Here are just a few examples:
Here is some of the coverage of the controversy Red Card has generated: