Militant JournalismPalestine

2021: A banner year for sports support of Palestine

Professional athletes, coaches and sports fans around the world have expressed support for Palestine in numerous ways this year, and the call to boycott Puma, which sponsors the Israeli Football Association, has made major gains.

“Active men and women football players (association and American), entire football teams, cricket players, basketball players, boxers and others have all taken to social media to courageously show their solidarity with Palestinians living under the brutal oppression of Israeli apartheid,” according to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.

Soccer players center Palestinian support

Palestinian liberation was front and center in the world of soccer this year.

During the open ceremony of the 2021 Arab Cup games, hosted in December in Qatar, fans erupted in cheers during the Palestinian national anthem. Throughout the tournament fans and athletes waved Palestinian flags — especially Algerian players. 

After defeating Morocco in the quarter final match, Houcine Benayada told the press, “We do not play for any bonus, we play for these two flags [Algeria and Palestine].” This was especially significant as Morocco established diplomatic relations with Israel last year. 

On Dec. 18, when Algeria’s soccer team won the FIFA Arab Cup after defeating Tunisia 2 to 0, Algerian head coach Madjid Bougherra dedicated the victory to Palestine and Gaza.

In May, Israel bombed Gaza, killing more than 247 Palestinians, including 66 children, Zionists conducted ethnic cleansing in Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem, and Palestinians protesters were violently repressed and arrested across the occupied West Bank and within present day Israel. Many in the sports world expressed outrage.

Famous players took to social media to express their support for Palestine. Some of the soccer players highlighted on the official BDS website as showing major support on the field for Palestine, include Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City), Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Amad Diallo (Manchester United), Hamza Choudhury (Leicester City FC), and Wesley Fofana (Leicester City FC).

Chile’s Primera Division de Chile players (Chilean Premier League) wore the Palestinian keffiyeh before playing.

The Turkish teams Fenerbahce and Demir Grup Sivasspor wore t-shirts with Palestinian and Turkish flags with a message reading “Free Palestine” before they played against each other in Istanbul.

Scottish and Irish soccer fans long history of support 

Celtic, a Glasgow-based football club with strong Irish immigrant roots, has a fan group known for their solidarity with Palestine: the Green Brigade. 

The Green Brigade covered their section of Celtic Park in Palestinian flags, banners, and signs before a match on May 12. One sign paid tribute to the late Salah Ajarma who helped launch the Aida Celtic Football Club, which is “a camp set up to support young Palestinian refugee footballers and backed internationally by the Green Brigade.” Prior to the May 12 match, activists from Palestine Alliance handed out flags as well as leaflets explaining the Nakba.

Olympic athletes gave up life-long dreams to stand with Palestine

Two Olympic athletes refused to compete against an Israeli opponent at the Tokyo Olympics this summer. This heroic display of solidarity came at a high cost to Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine. For refusing to compete against an Israeli, Nourine and his coach were sent home and banned for 10 years by the International Judo Federation, effectively ending Nourine’s career. Sudanese judoka Mohamed Abdalrasool withdrew from the Olympics ahead of his match against the same Israeli opponent. 

50 cities take part in ‘Boycott Puma’ Global Day of Action

The boycott Puma campaign has also garnered mass support this year. The campaign, launched by more than 200 Palestinian sports teams, asks teams and fans to boycott Israel and Puma, the German-based sports apparel company which sponsors the Israel Football Association. 

BDS writes that: “Puma’s sponsorship brings international legitimacy to the IFA’s actions. The IFA, as documented by Human Rights Watch, includes football clubs based in illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land.” 

In November, activists in Oceania, Asia, Europe and North America delivered 120,000 signatures to PUMA urging the company to end to its partnership with Israeli apartheid.

On Sept.18, Palestine supporters and sports fans from more than 50 cities on six continents participated in the #BoycottPUMA Global Day of Action. Protests were held at PUMA offices, PUMA-branded shops and retailers. Letters were delivered to store managers and leaflets distributed to customers.

In response to this campaign, many sports associations have dropped Puma, including Malaysia’s largest university. The Qatar Sports Club announced June 1 that it will not renew its contract with Puma.

The rising tide of support for Palestinian liberation is shining through various avenues in the global athletics industry. Sporting boycotts were instrumental in undermining the legitimacy of the South African apartheid regime. Time will tell their impact in bringing down Israeli apartheid as well.

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