Brussels declines to host upcoming Belgium-Israel soccer match, citing security risk

City official say game scheduled for September would provoke demonstrations endangering players, spectators, residents and police

Belgium starting players pose for a team photo at the beginning of the international friendly soccer match between Belgium and Luxembourg at the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels, Belgium, June 8, 2024. (Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP)
Belgium starting players pose for a team photo at the beginning of the international friendly soccer match between Belgium and Luxembourg at the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels, Belgium, June 8, 2024. (Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP)

BRUSSELS — The city of Brussels said it won’t host a UEFA Nations League match between Belgium and Israel in September because of the “dramatic situation in Gaza” that creates a security headache for city officials.

Brussels’ first alderman Benoit Hellings said on Wednesday the city considers it impossible to organize the match, which was scheduled to take place at the Stade Roi Baudouin on September 6.

Anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrators have repeatedly taken to the streets of Brussels since the start of the war in Gaza, sparked by Palestinian terror group Hamas’s October 7 devastating attacks in southern Israel.

Last month, ticket sales for the Belgium-Israel match were paused because of security concerns.

Hellings said that Brussels officials discussed thoroughly the possibility of hosting the match with the federal government, police forces and the Belgian soccer federation (URBSFA).

“Today, it is clear that the announcement of such a match being held in our capital will undoubtedly provoke major (counter-) demonstrations, compromising the safety of spectators, players, residents and our police forces alike,” he said in a statement.

“The Red Devils’ matches have always been moments of unity and togetherness. The humanitarian and security situation in Gaza and its repercussions force the (city) to inform the URBSFA that it is not possible to organize this match at the Stade Roi Baudouin.”

Israel’s national soccer team players pose ahead of the Euro 2024 group I qualifying soccer match between Israel and Romania at the Pancho Arena in Felcsut, Hungary, November 18, 2023. (Denes Erdos/AP)

War erupted on October 7 when Hamas led 3,000 terrorists in a massive cross-border attack from the Gaza Strip on southern Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducting 251 people of all ages.

Israel responded with a military offensive to destroy Hamas, topple its Gaza regime and free the hostages.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 37,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far. The tolls, which cannot be verified, include some 15,000 terror operatives Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

The Brussels setback came as the city of Lodz in Poland on Monday said it would not host games for Israeli team Maccabi Haifa for its matches in the third-tier UEFA Europa Conference League, also citing security concerns

A day earlier Maccabi Haifa announced that it had reached a deal to play its home games at the LKS stadium in the Polish city. However, the development drew a backlash from Polish soccer fans, some of whom accused Israel of carrying out “genocide” in Gaza, according to Hebrew media reports.

Widzew Lodz soccer team goalkeeper Rafal Gikiewicz declared that if reports the city would host Maccabi Haifa games were true, “this will be a great outrage. For me, compassion comes before business,” the Ynet outlet reported.

In its announcement, the Lodz municipality said that there was no agreement to host games, that it would not sign on to such a deal, and that it puts the “safety of Lodz residents as the first and highest priority.”

Israeli teams with international games that would ordinarily have been played in the Jewish state have sought locations abroad during the war.

Maccabi Haifa players during an Israeli Premier League soccer match against Beitar Jerusalem at the Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on February 10, 2024. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

Meanwhile, FIFA, the world soccer governing body is grappling with a Palestinian proposal to suspend Israel from international soccer.

On Friday FIFA postponed a vote on the matter and instead agreed to seek legal advice before holding an extraordinary council meeting within two months. In May, the Asian Football Confederation gave its backing to the Palestinian proposal to suspend Israel.

Israel has played in UEFA competitions as a member since 1994 and no European federation has refused to play its teams.

The Gaza war has sparked anti-Israel protests in cities around the world. Last month Israel competed at the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmo, which required boosted security due to demonstrations by thousands of protesters against Israeli participation.

Brussels has been on security alert even before the war in Gaza started, with Belgium being hit repeatedly by extremist attacks. Last year, a soccer game between Belgium and Sweden was suspended at halftime following a gunman fatally shooting two Swedes in Brussels before kickoff.

Ticket sales for other Belgium home matches in the tournament against France on October 14 and Italy on November 14 are going ahead as planned.

Belgium is currently playing at the European Championship in Germany. It lost its first group game against Slovakia.

Most Popular
read more: