By Paul Nicholson in Muscat, Oman
November 30 – The AFC’s big night out to celebrate and recognise its players and federations at its 2018 Award in Muscat, Oman, this week was missing one person. Salah Abu Al-Atta should have been on hand to pick an award for the Palestine Football Association but was refused an exit permit from Palestine by Israeli authorities.
It was a footnote to the event but serves as a poignant underlining of an issue that plagues Palestinian football and which FIFA, under the Infantino regime, has repeatedly brushed under their complexly weaved and extending carpet of political expediency.
Al-Atta is the deputy vice president of the Palestine Football Association (PFA) and would have collected the ‘Aspiring’ award in the AFC President’s Recognition Award for Grassroots Football category. Instead the award was collected by PFA vice president Susan Halabi (pictured second right).
If proof that the Israeli/Palestine issue is a real issue for football then this was it yet again. But it is just once incident in a never ending campaign of harassment by the Israelis that is part of the PFA’s daily life – a pointless and petulant game played by the Israelis seemingly for no other reason than to show that they can.
In many ways the high media profile (if lower league playing ability) of the Israeli teams playing in the occupied West Bank has masked the daily problems faced by the Palestinians of playing and developing football in their own country.
The examples are numerous. For example, two weeks ago Indonesia travelled to Palestine for a Women’s Olympic qualifying match – two Indonesian player were denied entry visas. No reason was given why. The match was played without them.
Palestine has two national team players in Chile, where there is a large football playing diaspora. Israel refuses to grant them visas to train and play in Palestine.
The interference extends beyond the movement of people to equipment and infrastructure. For two years the AFC has been trying to install two mini artificial pitches in Palestine. It is a small project but the shipment of pitch materials and equipment has encountered numerous problem, even to the point of the materials arriving but the tractor required to complete the work being impounded by the Israeli.
Now the tractor is in place but the Jordanian engineers (appointed because they work frequently in Palestine) can’t get the Israeli to issue visas to enter the country and tart the job.
This week the AFC executive committee condemned the military interference by Israel and called urgently for a new FIFA Task Force “in the strongest terms” to look into the issue.
“We will discuss with FIFA to set up a task force to address this issue immediately,” said AFC president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa. “It will be an operational task force with the general secretaries of FIFA, AFC, UEFA, PFA and Israeli FA as members to meet and propose a solution.
“We hope something good will come out of this Task Force to support our friends in PFA. Our commitment in supporting the PFA position is total.”
The will within the AFC is strong to make this happen. It is unlikely that a similar commitment will be found willingly at FIFA where president Gianni Infantino has so publicly brushed the Palestinian complaints under his growing carpet.
The Monitoring Committee set up under FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s regime was disbanded under Infantino’s – after a brilliantly orchestrated Israeli FA political campaign saw Israel’s president Benjamin Netanyahu call Infantino directly. Infantino’s argument was it is a political issue to be solved by government, not by football.
That Monitoring Committee had produced a report that reportedly did not favour the Israelis. FIFA said the report was never completed. That wasn’t true. It was completed but only in draft from. That report joined everything else under that now rather large carpet.
The AFC’s hope is that a Task Force will actually be able to push to some kind of action and resolution that a simple Monitoring Committee was never really mandated to do.
The awards in Oman were in the home of Sinbad and his magic carpet. Perhaps this might provide some new inspiration for another carpet take-off, and perhaps even a magical future for football in Palestine. The problem is that FIFA’s carpets under this regime rarely lift. Generally another one just gets put on top.
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