So, UEFA’s Under-21 championship kicked off on June 5 to decide which nation has the best “youth” players in Europe. This year, there’s a catch. The tournament is hosted by Israel which, of course, is not in Europe. Israel is bordered by Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria making it about as Middle East as you can get.
Which is exactly the problem. Israel was a member of the Asian Football Confederation from 1954 to 1974 before it was expelled at the height of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It then played the role of an unwanted wandering minstrel forced to qualify for the World Cup and sing HaTikvah across Europe and Oceania before being admitted to UEFA in 1992. It’s a deal that worked out well for Israel’s Football Association. After all, who doesn’t want access to the opportunities and riches of European football?
But this year’s UEFA championship has (not surprisingly) come with controversy. Former Sevilla player Freddie Kanoute organized a petition signed by professional players across Europe and Asia – even Australian A-League players – that called Israel’s hosting of the tournament as “contrary to sporting values”. Kanoute’s issues included the bombing a stadium in Gaza by Israeli military that killed four teenagers and the detention without charge by Israel of two Palestinian footballers.
Did someone mention Palestine? Oh, Palestine. The new President of the AFC, Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalif, used the first day of the UEFA tournament in Israel to release a statement praising the Palestine Football Association for its efforts in developing a football infrastructure in
a country geographical region part of Israel state place swept under the carpet a geographical entity recognized by the United Nations as a non-member observer state.
Regardless of your political perspective, football in Palestine faces predicaments unlike most other nations.
A short film produced by the company responsible for Philosophy Football T-shirts offers an often-ignored insight into life on the West Bank. The film at times comes across as an awkward marketing tool for Philosophy Football’s new Palestine shirts but it does demonstrate that football is a game kids will play anywhere. And that politics is never, ever, far away.
Check out State Of Play, a different kind of journey to Israel and a look at football in Palestine.