Big name footballers including ex-Chelsea player Didier Drogba are vehemently denying that they backed a call for Uefa to strip Israel of hosting the European Under-21 Championship.
The Ivory Coast captain took to Twitter to clear himself of involvement in a statement on the personal website of Beijing Guoan player Frédéric Kanouté that urged Uefa to reconsider its decision in the wake of the Gaza conflict.
The names of 62 footballers, none from teams that have qualified, were listed, including Arsenal’s Abou Diaby and Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, as well as players for teams in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, China and Turkey.
But Mr Drogba said: “I did not sign this petition or give my support to this initiative. I have never got involved in any conflicts. I have always tried to work for peace and reconciliation but also to fight against any forms of injustice or discrimination.”
Newcastle player Yohan Cabaye also denied signing it, stating that when asked by a teammate he had “simply expressed his sadness and compassion” over the situation and that he had “never desired in any way whatsoever to give a political message”.
In addition to the statement, 26 MPs, among them Sir Bob Russell, Paul Flynn, and Caroline Lucas, have signed an early day motion entitled “Racism in football and European football tournament in Israel”. The EDM “registers with profound disapproval” that Israel has been chosen “even though Israel is geographically not in Europe and is a country which has policies of racial apartheid against Palestinians”.
Former Manchester City player Barry Silkman said Uefa should allow players the chance to “see Israel for themselves”.
He said politics should not be brought into sport, whether Israel or any other country, such as 2022 World Cup host Qatar. “The two have nothing to do with each other.”
Mr Silkman added that the boycott call would not help efforts to kick racism out of football. In fact, he said: “These players should be called in front of Fifa, because this is racist.”
An FA spokesman said the boycott call was not representative of its views.
Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Police have met a delegation from the Community Security Trust, Maccabi GB and the Society of Black Lawyers to discuss racism and antisemitism in football.
Monday’s meeting followed last week’s West Ham versus Tottenham game when antisemitic chants and “gas chamber” hissing were reportedly heard at White Hart Lane.
Police are also investigatingreports that at last Saturday’s match between Huddersfield and Leeds United, Huddersfield fans made Nazi salutes and chanted “Jimmy Savile is a Yid”.