Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met on Sunday in his Jerusalem office with Israel's national under-21 soccer team, ahead of the UEFA Under-21 Championship, which is due to start this Wednesday. The Israeli team will open the tournament with a game against Norway in Netanya.
Also attending the meeting were Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat, Netanya Mayor Miriam Fierberg, Culture and Sports Ministry Director-General Orly Froman, Israel Soccer Association Chairman Avi Luzon, Tournament director Ronen Hershko, Israeli team coach Guy Luzon and the team's players. The team gave Prime Minister Netanyahu a team jersey with his name on it and an autographed ball.
"Along with all Israelis, I am excited,” Netanyahu said. “I watch soccer and sometimes play and this has a price at my age. It is pure enjoyment and a great love. The achievement of the tournament is that it is happening in the State of Israel. I am pleased by UEFA President Michel Platini's strong stand that the tournament take place here; this is important for a country that loves sports. The Israeli national team represents something important; it represents all parts of the population of Israeli society that has united to play together on behalf of the country. You will represent the State of Israel with honor. I would like to commend you; you already have a great success in that the tournament is taking place in our country."
A year ago, the Palestine Football Association (PFA) asked UEFA to bar Israel from hosting the 2013 European Under-21 Championship, citing what it claimed was “Israel’s detention without trial of Palestinian Authority Arab players”.
Platini later wrote to Avi Luzon to confirm that Israel will hold the 2013 tournament despite ''a certain amount of pressure being put on us.''
''UEFA is an apolitical organization and your association earned the right to host this competition through a fair, democratic vote,'' Platini wrote. ''I am sure that it will be a beautiful celebration of soccer that, once again, will bring people together.''
Culture and Sports Minister Livnat said on Sunday, "The national team will be at its best and will represent Israel with honor. Last week, the government approved an allocation of NIS 4.1 million for the tournament which is taking place in Israel for the first time. Great efforts have been invested in hosting the tournament despite the heavy pressures that were applied against hosting the championship in Israel. I call on fans to go and offer encouragement and I wish great success to the national team or, to put it simply, many goals in the other teams' nets."
Israel Soccer Association Chairman Luzon said, "I thank Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for the understanding that this tournament is of national importance and will greatly help the State of Israel's public diplomacy overseas by showing a beautiful Israel that loves sports. I would also like to thank Culture and Sports Minister Livnat for her steadfast support and for the allocation of resources for organizing the tournament on a higher level. I invite Israelis to come to the stadiums and enjoy a unique soccer experience."
A video (in Hebrew) from Sunday’s meeting can be seen below.