UEFA Under-21 Championship: Activists Demand It Be Moved From Israel

Activists are calling for European football's governing body, UEFA, to move the European Under-21 football championship away from Israel, calling the plans to stage the tournament there hypocritical and insensitive.

The Red Card Israeli Racism campaign has been working since June 2011 when UEFA made its decision to get the verdict overturned, arguing that by "admitting Israel to European sporting organisations those organisations directly condone the institutionalised racism in Israel."

The campaign has gained more attention recently following a letter in support of it written to the Guardian by prominent figures including South African Archibishop and Nobel winner Desmond Tutu, footballer Frédéric Kanouté, past and present British politicians, and filmmaker Ken Loach.

The increased attention on UEFA's decision comes following the announcement by the world-famous theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking that he is boycotting an upcoming conference in Israel citing its policies towards the Palestinians. Hawking's decision constituted a significant victory for the growing boycott, sanctions, and divestment (BDS) movement aimed at forcing Israel to comply with its obligations under international law and recognize Palestinian rights.

The letter highlight the disjuncture between recent moves by UEFA to take a harsher approach to incidents of racism in the sport, and its decision to hold the under-21 tournament in Israel:

"We find it shocking that this same organisation shows total insensitivity to the blatant and entrenched discrimination inflicted on Palestinian sportsmen and women by Israel. Despite direct appeals from representatives of the sport in Palestine and from anti-racist human rights campaigners across Europe, Uefa is rewarding Israel's cruel and lawless behaviour by granting it the honour of hosting the European Under-21 finals next month."

Despite claims that sport and politics should not be mixed, they always have and always will. Most significantly where I am from (New Zealand), there were widespread protests against the 1981 South African rugby tour of the New Zealand during the apartheid era. Calls for sporting boycotts for political reasons are not new and in this case they are a legitimate and necessary response to Israel's ongoing discrimination against the Palestinians.