Israel is facing suspension from international soccer games and competitions after the Palestinian soccer association (PFA) promised to put Israel’s treatment of Palestinian soccer players on trial at the upcoming FIFA Congress in Zurich on May 29.
According to the Guardian, the PFA alleges that Palestinian players receive humiliating and/or racist treatment when they have to deal with Israeli security forces -- for example, when they cross over the borders between Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. In addition to not allowing the free movement of Palestinian or foreign players across Israeli borders, the PFA also alleges that five teams in the Israeli Premier League are based in illegal settlements in the West Bank, in contravention of FIFA’s rules.
The matter will now go before FIFA’s 209-member Congress. If two-thirds of the delegates vote in favor of the PFA, Israel would immediately be suspended from all international competitions, including Euro 2016 and the UEFA Champions League, and there would be nothing FIFA can do about it.
Israel would become only the third country ever to be suspended by FIFA after apartheid-era South Africa and Yugoslavia. It would also be a huge embarrassment for the country that could have political implications.
As FIFA president Sepp Blatter noted on Tuesday, not even he can stop the PFA from bringing the matter to a vote, although he has made no secret of the fact that he opposes bringing the matter to a vote, calling it “inappropriate” and an abuse of FIFA statutes. The Swiss, who is under mounting pressure for a series of corruption scandals at FIFA, has already headed to Jerusalem to speak with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas about how to resolve the matter. According to Sky Sports, Blatter and Netanyahu have agreed to a VIP fast-track system that eases movement for Palestinian players between the West Bank and Gaza, in addition to a “match of peace” between the Israeli and Palestinian national teams at some point in the future.
Meanwhile, the PFA has warned that if the FIFA Congress does not vote in favor of the motion, then it will bring the issue to the EU’s Court of Arbitration for Sport.
“I think there is almost a consensus amongst member associations against racism, against the five clubs from the settlements and for our right to have free movement and access,” Jibril Rajoub, President of the PFA said. “The whole congress should raise the red card. We have discussed with everyone and no one has said our demands are irrational or illegal.”
Meanwhile, Rotem Kamer, CEO of the Israeli soccer association (IFA), denied his association had control over security issues at the heart of the Palestinian complaint, adding that it cannot supersede government rules about the movement of people across its borders. “We have found ourselves in the last two months in a political conflict that has nothing do with football in the region. It started two years ago. Now we find ourselves the target of an unprecedented proposal to be suspended,” he said. “This does not have a place at the FIFA Congress. I believe football should be a bridge that shows governments that football brings people together, not be a weapon.”