By Andrew Warshaw
October 25 – A pro-Palestinian campaign group has re-ignited Middle East tensions by writing to FIFA ahead of this week’s Council session protesting at Israel’s alleged continuing obstructive conduct in the region.
Red Card Israeli Racism has written to FIFA’s ruling body, which is meeting in India, claiming Israeli authorities disrupted the annual Palestine Cup Final, in which the top Gaza and West Bank teams play each other over two legs.
“After many years during which Israel banned this event outright, the Cup Final resumed in 2015 but has been marked by repeated disruption by Israel of the teams’ travel in and out of Gaza,” said the group.
“This summer 10 squad members of Gazan champions Shabab Rafah were denied permission to travel for the second leg of the Cup Final, after perennial West Bank champions Ahli Al-Khalil had been forced to travel to Gaza with a similarly threadbare squad.”
In a separate incident, Israel has also, it is claimed, impounded a shipment of artificial turf since March, “putting at risk the construction of a number of artificial pitches in Palestine”.
Red Card Israeli Racism is treated with considerable scepticism by the pro-Israel lobby which views it as a self-serving propaganda body.
But RCIR Coordinator Geoff Lee insists FIFA’s attempts to create a level playing field in the occupied territories are still not working.
“FIFA has negotiated paper improvements to the right of movement of players and equipment,” said Lee. “But the reality is that Israel still obstructs Palestinian football as it does every aspect of Palestinian life in the Occupied Territories. Even the Palestine Cup Final – the highlight of the footballing calendar – is regularly impeded by the occupier, and the attempt to recruit informers is a disgraceful abuse of power. At the same time Israel blocks the development of sports facilities at every turn.”
The latest initiative comes as the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) waits to hear the result of its appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) over the voting debacle at last May’s FIFA Congress.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino refused to allow a vote on a Palestinian motion to discuss a long-overdue report on six Israeli clubs playing in the occupied territories.
Angered by FIFA’s constant delaying tactics, the PFA went to sport’s highest court “because we consider the way in which our proposal was overthrown by Mr. Infantino illegal, and an additional violation of the FIFA Statutes and standing orders of the congress.”
Infantino’s move reportedly followed a personal phone call made to him by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asking for the item to be removed from the Congress agenda, thereby ruling out a vote to sanction Israel for allowing its league to include the six teams that are based in West Bank settlements.
CAS is expected to rule on the case on January 26. Should it find in the PFA’s favour, says RCIR, FIFA could be forced to call an Extraordinary Congress so as to hold a vote on the contested motion.
“President Infantino – with the backing of FIFA Council – has tried to tie up the issue of Israel’s illegal settlement clubs in endless discussions,” Lee declared. “To do so he has ridden roughshod over the PFA’s rights as a FIFA member. We are confident that the CAS will uphold those rights, and that the IFA (Israeli Football Association) will eventually face international sanctions for its collusion in the war on Palestinian sport.”
Intriguingly the long stand-off between Israel and Palestine, and the pressure on FIFA to resolve it, is on the agenda at the Fifa Council session in Kolkata with Infantino likely to address the issue at the press conference which follows.
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