By Andrew Warshaw
April 21 – Israel is stepping up its diplomatic efforts to foil another Palestinian motion within FIFA for severe sanctions to be applied on its Middle East neighbour.
According to Israeli reports, Israeli representatives in several countries have been mandated to try and gain behind-the-scenes international support ahead of next month’s FIFA Congress which will decide what action to take against the thorny issue of six Israeli soccer teams based in West Bank settlements.
Palestinian Football Association President Jibril Rajoub has reportedly once again placed the settlement teams at the forefront of both the FIFA Council meeting, in Manama, Bahrain, on May 9, and the FIFA Congress, which convenes in the same city 24 hours later.
On Tuesday, according to Israeli media, the Foreign Ministry sent a cable to dozens of Israeli embassies instructing officials to try to persuade their host countries to remove the issue from FIFA’s agenda or ensure that no vote on it takes place.
“Our growing assessment is that the FIFA Congress is liable to make a decision on suspending six Israeli teams that play over the Green Line, or even on suspending Israel from FIFA,” the cable said. “We urge you to contact your countries’ representatives on the FIFA Council as soon as possible to obtain their support for Israel’s position, which rejects mixing politics with sport and calls for reaching an agreed solution between the parties … and to thwart an anti-Israel decision if it is brought before the council.”
The Palestinians have been trying for two years to pressure FIFA into taking action over the Israeli authorities’ treatment of their players and the free movement of equipment in Gaza and the West Bank. FIFA bars any country from setting up teams on another country’s territory, or letting such teams play in counter leagues without specific consent.
The six teams in question are located in Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel, Kiryat Arba, Givat Ze’ev, Oranit and the Jordan Valley. All play in low-level leagues.
In late March, a meeting took place in Zurich between Tokyo Sexwale, head of FIFA’s mediation committee, Israel Football Association chairman Ofer Eini and Rajoub. A report presented by Sexwale was said to be “extremely harsh” on Israel.
An amended version subsequently dropped any mention of suspending Israel, but still said the settlement teams’ inclusion in Israeli leagues violated FIFA’s laws.
Earlier this week, Eini sent a letter to FIFA’s general secretary, Fatma Samoura, apparently asking the Palestinians to remove the issue of the settlement teams from the Congress agenda.
Meanwhile, the Pro-Palestinian ‘Red Card For Israel’ pressure group has called on FIFA to do exactly the opposite – and throw the book at Israel.
The body says more than 100 sports associations, trade unions, human rights organizations and faith-based groups, representing millions of people from 28 countries across the globe, have signed a petition delivered to FIFA Council members.
The letter criticises FIFA for repeated delays and selective enforcement of its own rules and bemoans the fact that Sexwale’s report itself is not on the Council agenda.
“Once more FIFA seems to be kicking the ball further down the road in an attempt to avoid action,” it says accusing the administration led by Gianni Infantino of running afoul of its own recent commitment to respect and promote internationally recognised human rights.
“This laudable goal will be judged by the extent of its implementation in real-life contexts,” states the letter, noting it will be a poor commentary on FIFA if its newly-declared policy “falls at the first hurdle.”
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