Dozens of professional footballers, including Didier Drogba, have written to UEFA in protest at a decision to award Israel the under-21 European championships next year in the wake of fresh conflict with Palestinians.
In a letter to the European game’s ruling body, which organises the tournament, the players said that allowing the Jewish nation to host the competition would condone its recent offensive against Gaza-based militants.
The players, among them a number of top players from the English, French, Italian and Spanish top flight, said they expressed solidarity with Gazans who were “living under siege and denied basic human dignity and freedom”.
“The latest Israeli bombardment of Gaza, resulting in the death of over a hundred civilians, was yet another stain on the world’s conscience,” they added in the letter, which was widely published on the Internet.
The players also highlighted the Israeli bombardment of a football stadium in Gaza on November 10 that killed four teenagers and the plight of a number of Palestinian footballers detained by Israel since February this year.
“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 letter said.
“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.”
The eight-day confrontation ended with a November 21 ceasefire deal. Some 175 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and six Israelis, two of them soldiers, were killed in the conflict, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.
Signatories of the letter included five members of English side Newcastle United, among them Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse and Yohan Cabaye, Eden Hazard of Chelsea and the former Stamford Bridge star Drogba, who now plays in China.
The draw for the eight-team competition, which runs from June 5-18, was made this week in Tel Aviv.
A number of international pro-Palestinian groups and the Palestine Football Association itself have previously written to UEFA president Michel Platini, urging him to move the competition elsewhere.