Several elite footballers have publicly signalled their solidarity with the Palestinians, as the death toll from Israeli air raids mounts in Gaza.
At least 198 people in Gaza, including 58 children, have been killed since the violence erupted a week ago, according to the coastal enclave’s health ministry.
Ten people, including two children, have been killed in Israel amid rocket fire from Gaza’s ruling Hamas group.
Alarmed by the bloodshed, footballers in the United Kingdom, Turkey, Chile and elsewhere have pledged support for the Palestinian people.
In a high-profile demonstration, Leicester City stars Hamza Choudhury and Wesley Fofana held up the Palestinian flag as they celebrated their team’s victory in the UK’s FA Cup final on Saturday, at London’s Wembley Stadium, over Chelsea.
Images of the moment were shared widely on social media, with many quick to praise the two players, who hail from the UK and France respectively.
Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to the UK, said the gesture was “timely and appreciated”.
“Carrying the Palestinian flag on the stage of one of football’s most august cup competitions is a show of support that is reverberating all over Palestine,” Zomlot said in a letter addressed to the pair, shared in a post on Twitter.
Letter to Hamza Choudhury and Wesley Fofana, Leicester Football Club, who used the occasion of the FA cup triumph to show solidarity with the Palestinian people 🇵🇸🙏🏽✌🏽✊@Wesley_Fofanaa@HamzaChoudhury1@LCFC
#SavePalestine #Jerusalem #GazaUnderAttack pic.twitter.com/1gSm7tJnH8
— Husam Zomlot (@hzomlot) May 15, 2021
‘Pray for Palestine’
Other UK-based footballers, including Manchester City’s Algerian winger Riyad Mahrez, Manchester United’s French midfielder Paul Pogba, and Liverpool’s Egyptian forward Mohamed Salah have also weighed in on the conflict.
Mahrez posted a picture of the Palestinian flag in a Twitter post on May 10, along with the hashtags “#Palestine” and “#SaveSheikhJarrah” – the neighbourhood in Israeli occupied East Jerusalem where several Palestinian families are facing the forced expulsion from their homes to make way for Jewish settlers.
🤲🏼🇵🇸 #Palestine #SaveSheikhJarrah pic.twitter.com/t1JdD24chc
— Riyad Mahrez (@Mahrez22) May 10, 2021
Pogba called for his followers to “pray for Palestine” in an Instagram post, while Salah tweeted on May 11 that he was calling on world leaders, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to “do everything in their power to make sure the violence and killing of innocent people stops immediately”.
I’m calling on all the world leaders including on the Prime Minister of the country that has been my home for the past 4 years to do everything in their power to make sure the violence and killing of innocent people stops immediately. Enough is enough. @BorisJohnson
— Mohamed Salah (@MoSalah) May 11, 2021
Salah’s Liverpool team-mate, Malian forward Sadio Mane, and fellow Egyptian star, Mohamed Elneny, also took to social media to express solidarity with Palestinians.
Elneny, who plays for UK club Arsenal, on May 10 tweeted pictures of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, accompanied by the caption: “My heart and my soul and my support for you Palestine.”
my heart and my soul and my support for you Palestine 🇵🇸 ✌️ pic.twitter.com/ywrpPk5Xmf
— Mohamed ELNeny (@ElNennY) May 10, 2021
In a post on Instagram, Mane also shared a picture of the Al-Aqsa Mosque alongside the hashtag “Free Palestine”.
Eric Cantona, actor and former Manchester United player, posted an image of himself wearing a “Hoping for Palestine” T-shirt, as he called on his 922,000 followers to donate to the Hoping Foundation’s emergency call for funds.
Demonstrations in Chile, Qatar, Turkey
The sport has also seen larger demonstrations of solidarity with Palestinians.
In Chile, players from Club Deportivo Palestino, a team established in 1920 by Palestinian immigrants, donned the keffiyeh in the minutes before kick-off.
— Club Deportivo Palestino (@CDPalestinoSADP) May 9, 2021
Similar demonstrations took place in Kuwait and Qatar, while in Turkey, players from the Istanbul-based side Fenerbahce warmed up for a recent game wearing T-shirts with the message “Free Palestine”.
German star Mesut Ozil, who has previously spoken out on China’s alleged mistreatment of its minority Uighur population, was among those who participated in Istanbul.
Ozil later tweeted a photo of a young boy wearing a shirt with his name printed on the back, giving a soldier of unidentified nationality a red card.
— Mesut Özil (@MesutOzil1088) May 14, 2021