Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story stated that 60 players, including Didier Drogba, had signed the petition. The petition on December 6 had 52 signatories, not including Drogba.
Top footballers protesting against Israel hosting of tournament
Players sign petition asking UEFA to move European Under-21 event from Tel Aviv
World football's governing body FIFA plans to help rebuild damaged stadium
A group of soccer stars have called for Israel to be stripped of hosting rights for a top European age-grade tournament next year following last month’s bomb attacks on Gaza.
52 players, including Eden Hazard, Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba signed a petition which was posted on the website of former English Premier League and Spanish La Liga striker Fredi Kanoute.
“We, as European football players, express our solidarity with the people of Gaza who are living under siege and denied basic human dignity and freedom,” the statement said.
“The latest Israeli bombardment of Gaza, resulting in the death of over a hundred civilians, was yet another stain on the world’s conscience.”
It cited reports of a bomb attack by Israeli forces on a football stadium in Gaza on November 10, which killed four teenage players, and said that two players from the club Al Amari had been detained in Israel “without charge or trial” since February.
“It is unacceptable that children are killed while they play football. Israel hosting the UEFA Under-21 European Championship, in these circumstances, will be seen as a reward for actions that are contrary to sporting values,” the statement said.
CNN has found no evidence that anyone was killed while playing football. But on November 10 as reported by CNN, four Palestinians were killed when Israeli tank fire hit a building east of Gaza City where mourners were gathered for a funeral, according to Palestinian medical sources. Israel said militants were targeted at several sites after an Israeli Defense Patrol came under attack, wounding four soldiers.
The statement on Kanoute’s site adds: “Despite the recent ceasefire, Palestinians are still forced to endure a desperate existence under occupation, they must be protected by the international community. All people have the right to a life of dignity, freedom and security. We hope that a just settlement will finally emerge.”
Tel Aviv will host the European Under-21 Championship next June, when eight nations will compete in Israel.
European football’s governing body UEFA has already rejected calls to move the tournament from pro-Palestine groups including the disputed territory’s football association.
“UEFA is an apolitical organization and (Israel) earned the right to host this competition through a fair, democratic vote,” UEFA president Michel Platini said in June.
“I am sure that it will be a beautiful celebration of football that, once again, will bring people together.”
World football’s governing body FIFA also says it does not interfere in countries’ political affairs, but said it would help rebuild the stadium in Gaza – as it did in 2006 following a similar attack.
“We see it our mandate to rebuild football infrastructure which has been destroyed,” FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said last week.
“Football brings people together and we will support any reconstruction necessary when football infrastructure is destroyed through disasters.”
Valcke’s statement was criticized by Israeli media, which reported that the stadium was used by Hamas militants to fire rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Palestine’s bid for recognition was boosted last week when the U.N. general assembly voted to upgrade its status to that of a non-member observer state – a move which was opposed by Israel and the U.S.
“We came to the United Nations not to confront the U.S. and not to isolate Israel or to discriminate Israel. We came to preserve the two-state solution,” Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erakat told CNN’s Piers Morgan.