By Andrew Warshaw
January 11 – FIFA appears to be no closer to a solution to the increasingly fractious dispute in the Middle East and specifically the issue of Israeli lower-league clubs based in the occupied West Bank.
At Tuesday’s post-FIFA Council media briefing in Zurich given by Gianni Infantino, precious little information was provided on a highly sensitive subject which Infantino claims is right at the top of his priority list.
Even though the item – arguably of far more immediate significance than an expanded World Cup that won’t happen for nine years – was on the agenda, the 30-minute briefing was entirely dominated by Infantino’s tub-thumping 48-team plan with the FIFA president giving the briefest of updates over Israel and Palestine.
Whether FIFA likes it or not, mediation efforts to bring about a compromise have stalled, with Infantino unable to exert the same influence or control he has over internal FIFA matters.
Hence the subject was brushed aside in the space of two minutes. “There was no decision made today,” said Infantino who added that Tokyo Sexwale, FIFA’s top mediator in the Middle East, was hoping for yet another meeting between the two parties “to see if they can come together with a football solution. This is not about politics, it’s about football.”
But of course the two are inextricably linked in this particular case especially following the recent United Nations resolution condemning Israeli settlements. Last week, the UN Security Council demanded an end to Israeli settlements in the first such resolution in decades.
“Within one month, we expect a final report to be produced by Tokyo Sexwale and then we’ll take a decision,” Infantino added though the Council does not meet again until May.
The omens hardly look very positive. FIFA had been due to rule on the future of the six clubs in October but was forced to delay its decision until this week’s Council session. Now there is a further delay complicated by the fact that the Israeli and Palestinian associations are members of FIFA whose rules prevent matches being played on another country’s territory without permission.
The lack of information provided by Infantino will disappoint human rights watchdogs who are demanding FIFA gets off the fence and announces some clear progress. In November, an increasingly frustrated Sexwale, having met with both Palestinian and Israeli officials, pledged that the update he would give the FIFA Council this week would be “very clear and loud”.
Either it was anything but – or what was said in the session remained in-house.
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