Sepp Blatter’s recent claim that football should be kept separate from politics was kicked into touch during a series of events staged by Amnesty International in London 6 to 8 June 2014.
Timed to immediately precede the World Cup in Brazil, the organisation’s Sidelines festival http://www.amnesty.org.uk/events/sidelines-football-film-festival at the Hackney Picturehouse showcased films and discussions on the theme of Football and Human Rights involving film directors, leading sports journalists, Amnesty researchers and former footballers, including Eric Cantona.
Cantona presented his own film, Looking for Rio, which explores the social and historical context of Brazil’s vibrant football culture. At a reception afterwards he met campaigners from Red Card Israeli Racism and Football Beyond Borders accompanying former Palestinian footballer and Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Mahmoud Sarsak. Cantona showed genuine delight at being introduced to Sarsak, who he had publicly supported when Sarsak was on hunger strike in an Israeli jail in 2011, after three years of detention without trial.
Sarsak said there had been no let-up in Israeli-imposed restrictions that make Palestinian football all but impossible to play, organise or support. Cantona reiterated his belief that Israel was unfit, on human rights grounds, to host international tournaments such as last year’s UEFA under-21 games.
The Red Card Israeli Racism message, including the call for UEFA to reject Israel’s bid for Jerusalem to be one the host cities for Euro 2020, was well-received by participants in the festival.
At a discussion entitled The Perfect Host which asked “Who is the winner when a country whose history is stained with human rights abuses is awarded the right to host a major sporting event?” panel member Sanaa Qureshi, from Football Beyond Borders, said the Under-21 finals had “completely whitewashed Israeli abuses.” She charged European media and other commentators with being selective about which abuses to target, letting Israel off the hook.
Times football reporter Rory Smith said protests surrounding the Under-21s had attracted little attention largely because it was a junior tournament. This should not apply in the case of Euro 2020.
French football writer Philippe Auclair said neither FIFA nor UEFA took human rights into account when considering where tournaments should be held. Shamefully, he said, sponsors also took no responsibility. He said it should be simple to exclude Qatar because of the use of forced labour to construct facilities, and Israel because of the way it disrupts Palestinian football. A campaign to suspend Israel from FIFA while abuses last was entirely feasible, Auclair said.