By Paul Nicholson
August 16 – The Malaysian football federation has pulled out of hosting the 67th Annual FIFA Congress in Kuala Lumpur in May next year, citing security issues and on the advice of their government. The key issue appears to be the refusal of the Malaysian government to provide visas for Israeli delegates.
A FIFA statement said: “We can confirm that the 67th FIFA Congress will not be held in Kuala Lumpur as the Football Association of Malaysia was not able to fulfill all of the requirements for hosting the event.
“FIFA in coordination with AFC will announce a new host in due time.”
Malaysia’s Deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi said that Malaysia was “unable to provide visas to Israeli officials because it did not have diplomatic ties and could rile up local sensitivities…Some of the conditions of hosting the event include placing the (Israeli) flag on the table during the congress. After comparing the benefits and the risks, it is better for Malaysia to avoid playing host.”
Muslim-majority Malaysia has supported the rights of Palestinians and has a precedent for not allowing Israelis into the country for events. In 2015 Israel did not participate in the Youth Sailing World Championships in Malaysia, reportedly after a row over visas and flags. And there were demonstrations in 1997, when Israel played the International Cricket Council Trophy competition in Malaysia,
The Israeli/Palestinian conflict has been a high profile and on-going issue in world football. The football dispute has been centred on the free movement of players and equipment between Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza.
Frequently Israeli border controls either prevent or delay players and officials crossing between the territories. Most recently Israeli authorities prevented the Palestine Cup final being played for three days between Shabab Khan Younis and Ahly al-Khalil of Hebron. The Israelis eventually reversed a ban on six Palestinian footballers after initially refusing them entry to the occupied West Bank to play the decisive second leg of the final.
The Israelis claim that the Palestinians pose a terrorist threat and footballers have been used to carry weapons between the territories. The Palestinians say they just want to play football and that there are no terrorist organisations operating in football. A middle ground has been as hard to find as a crossing point in what has become an increasingly politicised dispute.
FIFA has made multiple attempts to mediate the situation without huge success and the situation reached a crisis point at the 2015 FIFA Congress when Palestine tabled a motion for the suspension of Israel from FIFA. This motion was withdrawn after dramatic and impassioned speeches from sides with former FIFA president Sepp Blatter playing a key role in encouraging a course of dialogue over sanctions to find a solution.
A task force to find a solution is being lead by South African human rights activist Tokyo Sexwale, but it is even testing his mercurial powers of communication.
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