UEFA Thursday restored a modicum of balance in the competition between Middle Eastern states for the rights to host major international sports events by naming Israel as the host nation for the 2013 European Under-21 Championship.
The awarding of UEFA’s premier age competition comes six weeks after FIFA voted to give the hosting of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, the first Middle Eastern state to become the venue of the world’s biggest sporting event. Qatar is current hosting the Asian Cup.
Although geographically located in the Middle East, Israel competes since 1994 in the European league after Arab states rejected it from the Asian confederation.
Israel’s winning bid for the U-21 championship faced competition from England, Bulgaria, Wales and the Czech Republic.
Israel previously hosted the European Under-16 tournament in 2000 and staged UEFA's annual Congress in Tel Aviv last year.
In advance of the U-21 tournament, Israel is building new stadia in Haifa, Netanya and Petah Tikva and upgrading Tel Aviv’s 60-year old National Stadium.
The awarding of the competition comes for Israel at a politically convenient time. This week’s disclosure by Al Jazeera of a cache of documents about US-sponsored efforts in the last ten years to forge peace with the Palestinians has portrayed Israel as seemingly unwilling to respond to far-reaching Palestinian concessions. Israel has so far declined to comment on the documents.
The disclosure, however, diminishes chances for an Israeli return return to competing in the Asian Cup. Proponents of Israel’s return argue that Egypt and Jordan have signed peace treaties with Israel since the ousting of the Jewish state from Asia and that various Arab states, including Qatar, Oman, Morocco, Tunisia and Mauretania maintained official trade relations with Israel until Israel’s attack on Gaza in late 2008.