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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

‘EU capital’ refuses to host Belgium-Israel football match

Brussels city authorities say the sporting event could provoke mass demonstrations over Gaza

The city of Brussels, renowned as a major centre for the EU and NATO, has refused to host an upcoming Nations League match between Israel and Belgium in September due to a risk of demonstrations over the Gaza war, city authorities said on Wednesday.

Belgium is in Group A2 of the UEFA Nations League along with France, Italy and Israel. The City of Brussels received a request from the Royal Belgian Football Association (KBVB) to host a home match between Belgium and Israel on September 6.

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Brussels authorities have been in talks for months with the federal government, police forces, and the KBVB, to assess the possibility of hosting the match at the King Baudouin Stadium.

On Wednesday, city authorities announced that “Given the dramatic situation in the Middle East, the Board of Mayor and Councilors of the City of Brussels considers it impossible to organize a high-risk match on its territory.”

“The Red Devils’ matches have always been moments of unity and togetherness. The humanitarian and security situation in Gaza and its repercussions force the (city) to inform the URBSFA (Belgian Football Federation) that it is not possible to organize this match at the Stade Roi Baudouin,” Brussels’ first alderman Benoit Hellings stated.

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Anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrations have repeatedly taken place in the Belgian capital since the start of the war in Gaza.

The URBSFA said it would have accepted if the match at the King Baudouin Stadium took place behind closed doors, but deeply regretted that Brussels has refused to host the game at all.

The federation said it was in contact with several Belgian cities and the security services about finding an alternative venue, according to France 24. The city of Louvain has reportedly already said it would not host the match either.

A spokesman for the Israeli football federation, Shlomi Barzel, told AFP: “This is a matter concerning Belgium, it’s not our problem.”

Brussels’ decision follows a similar announcement by the city of Lodz in Poland on Monday, which also cited security concerns when saying it would not host games for the Israeli team Maccabi Haifa for its matches in the third-tier UEFA Europa Conference League.

Meanwhile, the world’s governing soccer body FIFA has been struggling to respond to a Palestinian proposal to suspend Israel from the competition. FIFA said it needed an expert analysis on whether Israel’s actions breach the governing body’s regulations. The organization has been accused of acting quickly to ban Russian teams from competitions over the Ukraine conflict.