By Andrew Warshaw in Manama, Bahrain
May 11- Football’s long-running Middle East impasse erupted into chaos and confusion today as FIFA decided once again to delay a ruling on Israeli clubs playing in the occupied territories.
Amid stormy scenes at the FIFA Congress here, hard-hitting speeches from Palestinian Football Association president Jibril Rajoub (pictured), whose language at one point was so colourful that FIFA president Gianni Infantino had to intervene, and his Israeli counterpart Ofer Eini served only to fuel the flames of division as FIFA put off the highly sensitive issue until October, a highly unsatisfactory outcome.
It had been widely anticipated that Rajoub, who has been banging the drum for Palestinian rights to be respected for the best part of five years, would not let the matter lie after FIFA’s Council decided to take issue off the agenda.
And so it proved as he urged Infantino to allow the 211-member Congress to vote on FIFA chief Middle East negotiator Tokyo Sexwale’s report which included a recommendation to give Israel six months to stop six of its teams playing in the occupied territories.
“Until now all FIFA initiatives have failed …due to the pressure exercised by the Israeli government,” Rajoub charged as he talked of underhand tactics and intimidation. “None of you would accept clubs from another association playing on your territory. That’s all we want. We are not looking for suspension of expulsion of Israel. What we are proposing is a football solution presented by Tokyo Sexwale. Why has his report not been presented to this congress? Why was the item removed from the agenda? We’ve already had delay after delay. What exactly has Tokyo Sexwale achieved?”
Infantino responded by suggesting the report was not yet fully “consolidated” (the first time that had been made public) and that he had made a decision that any solution should in future be handled by the FIFA Council, and not the full Congress. This infuriated Rajoub and his legal team who protested in open forum that not allowing a PFA motion to be debated was unconstitutional.
FIFA’s latest delaying tactic – complicated by the fact that technically Sexwale’s mandate has expired – is hardly ideal since it is bound to cause even more enmity though he promised some kind of final solution would be taken at the next Council meeting in October.
For his part, Eini described Rajoub’s rant as “political from start to finish” and accused him of using football to determine political boundaries. “I do not intend to give a hate speech in return … but people in football do not have the authority to establish boundaries and borders. This Congress has to do everything within its power to have everyone playing football everywhere.” Of course that argument could be interpreted that Israel is similarly trying to establish territorial boundaries through football.
Before Infantino drew a close to the item, Rajoub was back on feet declaring that Israel’s stance was a “clear violation” of FIFA’s statutes and bemoaning the goalposts constantly being changed.
“This is the fifth time I am asking for justice,” he said.
But not even the intervention of Rajoub’s legal team could force Infantino to change his mind about a PFA proposal being voted on.
“I agree this topic should not keep being in the agenda,” Infantino admitted. “But we are getting there.” Didn’t feel like it.
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