Belgium's Red Devils at Euro 24. EPA-EFE/ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH


Brussels city decision to cancel Belgium-Israel football match sparks controversy


Brussels’s local government will not host an upcoming international football match between Belgium and Israel.

Mayor of Brussels Philippe Close and his first alderman of climate and sports, Benoît Hellings, referred to what they said were heightened risks and serious security concerns. The match was scheduled to take place at the Stade Roi Baudouin on September 6.

With the ongoing armed conflict in Gaza and strong pro-Palestinian sentiment within the Brussels’ migrant population, the city government said it did not want to take any risks.

On June 19, Hellings was reported to have said: “Given the chance of riots, in the stadium itself, in the immediate vicinity and in the city centre, we cannot take the risk of endangering the safety of our fellow citizens.

“A Devils [Red Devils is the nickname for the Belgium national team] football match is a unifying, family and festive moment. Given the current situation, it is impossible for this to be the case.

“After asking the police and the Co-ordination Body for Threat Analysis [OCAM], both of which confirm the potential increase in the risk of serious problems, we have been reassured about the application of the precautionary principle,” he said.

Brussels has seen many demonstrations in support of Palestine and against Israel.

The city has allowed organisations such as Samidoun, a group that often defends Hamas, to lead anti-Israel protests and chants such as “from the river to the sea” have been heard on occasions in Europe’s capital.

Brussels was hit by a terrorist attack on October 16 when an Islamist murdered two Swedish football fans ahead of a game between Belgium and Sweden.

Belgian news outlet Le Soir noted it may be that no mayor in Belgium would be willing to take the risk of receiving the Israeli national team.

A possible solution would be a Belgium-Israel match played outside the country. If so, the Bozsik Arena in Budapest, Hungary would be an option.

UEFA, Europe’s football federation, has not yet issued an official position on the matter.

The Belgian Football Federation stressed that home fans gave an important advantage for the national team. While it said understood the concerns about security, it railed against the move.

“We deplore the decision taken by the City of Brussels,” it said.

That criticism was shared by others, in particular Liberal politicians. Gautier Calome, who hopes to become next mayor of Ixelles, noted: “Brussels is capable of securing EU summits, NATO meetings, the visits of an American president, but not the arrival of 11 Israeli football players. Afraid of who? What?”

The president of the Liberal party Reformist Movement, George-Louis Bouchez, wrote on X: “Our capital is no longer even capable of receiving the Israeli team. Do we realise what this means for our democracy? A liberal democracy that is no longer capable of welcoming a democratic country?

“Even the worst dictatorships do not suffer this humiliation. Who can still deny that there is a serious problem in Belgium?

“We ask the Mayor of the City of Brussels to assume his responsibilities by authorising the organisation of this match,” Bouchez concluded.

The Israeli ambassador believes that this decision is a victory for the pro-Palestinian protesters. In a reaction to news outlet RTL info, mayor Close said, “You know, the Israeli ambassador has been telling a lot of nonsense for a long time and so I decided not to answer it anymore.”