By Samindra Kunti
June 6 – Argentina has cancelled a World Cup warm-up match with Israel following political pressure from Palestine. The cancellation of the highly controversial friendly has thrown Argentina’s World Cup preparations further into disarray.
Late last month Palestine Football Association chief Jibril Rajoub (pictured) sent a letter to the Argentina Football Association (AFA) asking them to cancel the game after it was moved to Jerusalem from Haifa following “political pressure” by the Israeli government, specifically mentioning Culture Minister Miri Regev. “This is a decision that, given the current context, the Palestine Football Association utterly rejects and condemns,” the letter said.
Rajoub’s call turned the game into a political issue as Israel remained intent on going ahead. Argentinean president Mauricio Macri examined the issue with the AFA and learned that “the players don’t want to play in Israel because of threats against Messi,” according to Argentinean newspaper Clarin. Macri apologised to Netanyahu and said that the players’ motivations were not political.
Rajoub had called on fans and Palestinians to target Messi. “He’s a big symbol so we are going to target him personally and we call on all to burn his picture and his shirt and to abandon him,” said Rajoub. “We still hope that Messi will not come.”
Argentinian trade unions as well as the Madres de Plaza del Mayo joined the calls. Last week, a rally took place outside the AFA headquarters in Buenos Aires. A petition had been organised to be delivered to the Argentine players in Israel.
Argentinean striker Gonzalo Higuain told ESPN they had “finally done the right thing”. But Israel’s defence minister Avigdor Lierberman said it was “too bad” Argentina’s footballers did not “withstand the pressure of the Israeli-hating inciters”. He tweeted: “We will not yield before a pack of anti-Semitic terrorist supporters.”
The news was received with cheers in Gaza, where at least 120 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces during recent protests. “Values, morals and sport have secured a victory today and a red card was raised at Israel through the cancellation of the game,” said Rajoub, quoted by Reuters news agency.
Omar Barghouti of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) said: “We welcome the decision by the Argentina team to cancel this “friendly” match. It would have been extremely unfriendly to human rights! Playing with an apartheid state is a form of complicity, magnified by Israel’s recent horrific massacre in Gaza against unarmed protesters demanding their basic freedom, dignity and UN-stipulated refugee right of return.”
The match was to be Argentina’s ultimate friendly before the World Cup in Russia, but coach Jorge Sampaoli and his players had already revealed they were not very keen on playing the friendly. Sampaoli complained again in the last few days about the logistics involved in the game.
Argentina defeated Haiti 4-0 in a farewell friendly at home at the end of May. Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick, but that match so far remains the team’s only warm-up match before the finals. Argentina will kick off their World Cup against debutants Iceland on June 16 in Moscow. They will also face Croatia and Nigeria in Group C.
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