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Israeli match sparks protest

BBC News
August 16, 2002


Plans for Scotland's Under-21 football team to play a friendly against Israel have triggered an angry response from pro-Palestinian campaigners.
Those opposed to the game going ahead have written to the Scottish Football Association (SFA) in protest against the policies of Israel in the Middle East conflict.

The Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) is calling for a boycott of the game - but the Scottish Federation of Supporters Clubs (SFSC) said the game should go ahead as planned.

A demonstration was held outside Hampden Park in Glasgow on Friday afternoon and a protest letter was handed to officials.

The match is scheduled to be played on 4 September at the Ballast Stadium in Hamilton.

Osama Saeed, of MAB, said the game should be cancelled because of the current conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, he said he was a committed Scotland fan and considered himself a member of the Tartan Army.

"From this perspective, as a Scotsman, I am a bit concerned about how the SFA seems to be approving of the occupation of Israel," he said.


Political decision

"It is this occupation that has crippled the hopes and aspirations of an entire nation, which we feel warrants a boycott of it."

He said the SFA knew where and when to avoid trouble and had done so previously when it cancelled a friendly against the former Yugoslavia for political reasons.

However, Martin Rose of the SFSC said the SFA did not condone the occupation of the Palestinian territories.

He said: "What they [the SFA] have done is arrange a football fixture in a normal arrangement.

"What you have to bear in mind is that they can only make decisions on fixtures based on advice given by the government, Uefa or Fifa.

"There has been nothing from those agencies that indicates Israel should be treated differently than any other countries in terms of availability for football matches."

Mr Rose said that people may object to the Chinese regime, yet no-one protested against their participation in the summer's World Cup.

An SFA spokesman said the match was not political.

"We play a very broad variety of countries every year at numerous levels and it is not feasible to take political concerns into account and vet possible opponents," he said.


'Particularly inappropriate'

"However, given the concerns over this fixture, we have checked with the UK Foreign Office and we have been advised that the UK enjoys normal relations with Israel and there are several sporting links between them."

However, the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) has given its backing to the protesters.

General secretary Bill Spiers said: "We have written to the SFA and the Scottish Executive expressing concerns about the game.

"At a time when Palestinian boys can't get to a football pitch because of restrictions on them we think it seems particularly inappropriate."