Inside Lines: Michel Platini comes under pressure from anti-Israel protesters


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The Independent Online

The heat is on Uefa's president, Michel Platini, not least because of his support for Qatar's 2022 World Cup summer of discontent.

No doubt he is also feeling hot under the collar after a pro-Palestinian demo at a Uefa dinner on the eve of last night's Champions' League Wembley final. This called on him to shift next month's European Under-21 tournament away from Israel because of the situation in Gaza, which Platini has resolutely refused to do.

Three protesters who broke through security were arrested in front of European football leaders and guests including David Beckham and Sir Alex Ferguson, one jumping on the stage and shouting anti-Israel slogans, while another stood behind Platini with a flag. This followed earlier demonstrations outside the venue in which protest groups under the banner of Red Card Israeli Racism claimed the backing of numerous political and sports figures, among them Eric Cantona and film-maker Ken Loach.

But more controversially they continued to circulate a statement of support from more than 50 European footballers, including several from the Premier League, expressing "our solidarity with the people of Gaza who are living under siege and denied basic human dignity and freedom." This despite strong denials from some players that they have actually signed it.

One of the alleged signatories, Chelsea's Demba Ba, told the The Independent on Sunday's Ian Herbert in New York that it is a hoax. This follows similar reaction from Ba's team-mate Eden Hazard, whose agent has declared: "Eden never speaks about his political opinions and he certainly never signed anything."

When asked about the mystery of the "ghost" signatures, a spokesperson for the rally organisers would only say: "The information we were given was that they had signed."

The Championship starts on 5 June, with Stuart Pearce's England team due to play Israel a week later at Jerusalem's Teddy Stadium where, according to the protesters, "there is a supporters group who embody a political voice in Israeli society which is shaped by its Jewish fanaticism, aversion to Muslims and its penchant to treat Arabs and other ethnic minorities within the country as inferior."

Wrestling gets a grip

Wrestling – the authentic variety rather than the grunt-and-groan stuff as performed by the late, great Mick McManus – should have a better idea of its Olympic fate this week when the International Olympic Committee meet in St Petersburg to shortlist candidates for inclusion in the 2020 Games.

Wrestling had been set for expulsion but has been given a lifeline following vehement protests from influential political protagonists such as the Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Rule changes are being proposed to make matches more entertaining (Mick could have given them a few tips on that) and the sport will go into the pot with seven others, including squash, wakeboarding and karate, for the one available slot to be finally settled in September.

Yet one event designed to show wrestling's international solidarity – exhibition matches between American and Iranian grapplers – was summarily curtailed without explanation last week when, after winning the first in New York, the Iranians were recalled as they were about to fly to Los Angeles for the second. Might this have had anything to do with the execution that day in Tehran of two men accused of spying for the US and Israel? Seems that while you can try to take sport out of politics you can never take politics out of sport.

Bubka set to soar

There are now five candidates to succeed Jacques Rogge when the IOC president ends his 12-year tenure in three months' time. On Friday Denis Oswald, the International Rowing Federation chief who led the IOC's supervision of London 2012, joined the race with Taiwan's C K Wu, Richard Carrión of Puerto Rico, and current IOC vice-presidents Ng Ser Miang (Singapore) and Thomas Bach, the German favourite.

But expect a more familiar name to throw his hat into the Olympic rings soon – Ukraine's pole-vault hero Sergei Bubka, who is also Seb Coe's most serious rival to run world athletics.