Israeli FA presses Blatter in effort to avert suspension
The Palestine Football Association (PFA) accuses Israel of hampering its activities and restricting the movement of players between the Gaza Strip and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Israel cites security concerns for the restrictions it imposes.
Blatter met Israeli Football Association (IFA) chairman Ofer Eini and chief executive Rotem Kamer to discuss the PFA request for the vote at a FIFA Congress on May 29. FIFA said it would host a further meeting between Einer and his Palestinian counterpart Jibril Rajoub in the next few days.
“FIFA President Blatter reiterated his position that any member association that is fulfilling its statutory duties should not be suspended,” a FIFA statement said. “This would also apply to the IFA as long as they fulfil such duties.”
The statement appeared to offer hope for the IFA, who have not themselves been accused of violating any FIFA statutes and have argued that they cannot control the actions of Israel’s security forces.
Earlier, an IFA official told Reuters that Eini and Kamer would urge Blatter to use his influence to strike the PFA proposal from the Congress agenda.
If FIFA were to suspend Israel, it would bar all its teams and clubs from competing in international events, including World Cup qualifications.
Although suspensions are not uncommon, the world body has taken such action mainly when a government has intervened in its football association’s affairs.
Israel is currently competing in the Euro 2016 qualifying event and its clubs will join European cup tournaments in July, when Israel is also due to host the European women’s under-19 championships. Suspension could force the event to be moved.
For the Palestinian proposal to pass, it would need the approval of 75 percent of FIFA’s 209 member associations.
POLITICS AND SPORT
In a letter to all FIFA members, Eini appealed for them to reject the proposal, saying it was “a flagrant move that seeks to mix politics with sport – something that is completely contrary to FIFA’s vision”.
Before leaving Tel Aviv he added: “Our meeting with (Blatter) is very significant as we endeavour to prevent the possibility of a vote … it is a major part of our efforts.”
The IFA official, who declined to be named, said Eini and Kamer would also meet German FA chief Wolfgang Niersbach to seek more support.
As well as restrictions on movement, The PFA has cited curbs Israel places on the import into the Palestinian territories of sports equipment and visits by foreign teams and individuals.
Two years ago, FIFA established a task force which included Blatter, the Israeli and Palestinian FA chiefs and the heads of the European and Asian confederations to try to resolve the Palestinian complaints.
Blatter said at the time that he was determined to overcome the impasse but last week Rajoub told Reuters that nothing had improved and repeated that Israel was “persecuting Palestine footballers, athletes and the movement of sporting equipment”.
He has also complained that Israel should not include five teams in its leagues from West Bank settlements and about racism against Arabs in Israeli football, a claim the IFA official said was “ridiculous and cantankerous”.
One Israeli club, Beitar Jerusalem, has refused to employ any Arab players and its fans regular chant racist abuse for which it has repeatedly faced disciplinary action but all other top clubs regularly employ Arab players and since the 1970s, Arabs have played in Israel’s national team.
Eini’s letter stated that last year, Blatter appointed Cyprus FA president, Costakis Koutsokoumnis, to go to the region as an observer and gather information on the situation.
He wrote that Koutsokoumnis reported that the IFA was not involved in determining Israeli travel policy and that FIFA, together with the IFA and the PFA, should try to help guide Israeli security agencies’ procedures to ease the situation.
(Additional reporting by Mike Collett; editing by Giles Elgood)