Pro-Palestinian protestors on Friday demonstrated opposite UEFA’s offices in London against the Under-21 European Championships taking place in Israel, two weeks before the games kick off.
The demonstrators called for the Union of European Football Associations to move the prestigious tournament from Israel, saying the country wasn’t worthy of hosting it. It would be “a stain” on the organization’s reputation if the games were played as planned, they said.
Mahmoud Sarsak, an international Palestinian player who spent over 100 days in an Israeli jail, joined the crowd. “Israel is destroying the Palestinians’ sporting infrastructure and preventing Palestinians from playing,” he said, according to Israel’s One sporting network.
British pro-Israel groups were encouraging people to voice their support for the national team before its journey to Israel. The StandWithUs advocacy group and Zionist Federation asked fans write the players, encouraging them to “enjoy their experience of Israel, without reference to anything political or the attempted boycotts of this tournament.”
For the tournament, which will kick off June 5, Israel was pooled in Group A with Norway and powerhouses England and Italy. Group B features the remaining countries that are participating in the tournament — Holland, Germany and Russia — along with Spain, which won in 2011 and is considered a favorite in the upcoming games as well.
As the host country, Israel did not have to go through the qualifying rounds, but rather received a free ticket to participate in the tournament, which showcases the best players of the Continent for the top teams to see.