By Andrew Warshaw
October 12 – As FIFA’s enlarged ruling Council prepares to meet for the first time, the United Nations official responsible for sport has written to the organisation re-iterating that a solution must be found as soon as possible regarding Israeli league teams situated in occupied territory.
Earlier this month, more than 60 European lawmakers demanded that five clubs based on Palestinian land be thrown out of the Israeli domestic league by FIFA or moved inside Israel’s internationally accepted borders.
The MEPs claimed the clubs involved – from the West Bank Israeli settlements of Maale Adumim, Ariel, Kiryat Arba, Givat Zeev and Bikat Hayarden (Jordan Valley) – are in breach of FIFA rules by playing in the Israeli league when the area falls under the Palestinian Football Association. They were later supported by a report from Human Rights Watch which said the Israeli teams were playing “on land unlawfully taken from the Palestinians”.
Both Israel and Palestine have their own national federations and FIFA regulations state that clubs from one member association cannot play on the territory of another member’s association without the latter’s express consent.
As FIFA’s Council prepares to address the issue, Wilfried Lemke, the UN special adviser on sport for development and peace has written to FIFA to reiterate that all clubs playing in FIFA-recognised competitions should abide by the relevant regulations.
Last year a FIFA mediation body headed by South Africa’s Tokyo Sexwale was set up to try and resolve the issue when the Palestine Football Association agreed reluctantly to withdraw a motion to have Israel thrown out.
Sexwale’s initiative has struggled to make inroads and in a letter to the former political prisoner and one-time FIFA presidential candidate, Lemke wrote: “In light of the ongoing dispute between the IFA, PFA and FIFA on Israeli football clubs operating on the occupied Palestinian territories, and acknowledging the relevant United Nations resolutions, I condemn any actions that breach these regulations.”
“The United Nations security council has determined that Israeli settlements in occupied territory have no legal validity, as they are in breach of international law, and that such practices are an obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”
“The UN recognises sport as a fundamental human right and, as such, it advocates and facilitates the realisation of such a right by everyone. Without undermining the right of Israeli and Palestinian people to sport, all teams playing in recognised FIFA competitions should abide by the laws of the game. I further call for the free movement of athletes, coaches and officials in, between, and around Israel and Palestine, to enable them to freely exercise sport and partake in sporting events.
“I therefore urge a resolution of any disputes in line with the United Nations security council resolutions and FIFA statutes within a reasonable time frame.”
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