Football: Palestinian urges UEFA to rethink Euro U21 hosts

A Palestinian footballer on Tuesday called for this year's European Under-21 football championships to be cancelled in Israel because of what he said was the Jewish state's oppression of athletes.

Mahmoud Sarsak, who was jailed for three years and released last July after a lengthy hunger strike, said on a visit to Paris that he wanted to "inform Europeans about the violations suffered by sportsmen, prisoners and children in Palestine".

He also said he wanted to "put pressure on the international sports authorities to ban Israel from hosting the European under-21 championship".

Eight teams are due to play in the tournament, which begins on June 5 and ends on June 18.

But Sarsak said Israeli action against Palestinians should bar them from holding the competition, highlighting last November's air strikes that damaged football grounds in Gaza, including the Palestine Stadium in Gaza City.

Israel claimed at the time that the stadium's compound was used to launch rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Sarsak, who was a promising youth player until he said he was arrested "for no reason" as he travelled to a match in July 2009, added: "Israel is looking to kill the hopes of Palestinian athletes by preventing them from playing."

He has requested a meeting with the head of the French Football Federation, Noel Le Graet, and France's sports minister, Valerie Fourneyron, to persuade them to put pressure on European football's governing body UEFA to cancel the competition.

He was due to travel to a number of other European countries for the same reason.

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.