Israel Scrambles To Avoid Suspension From World Soccer

Israel’s top soccer administrators will meet FIFA President Sepp Blatter in Zurich on Wednesday in a late bid to avert a vote called by the Palestinians to suspend Israel from the world body.

An official from Israel’s FA told Reuters that chairman Ofer Eini and chief executive Rotem Kamer would urge Blatter to use his influence to strike the Palestinian FA’s (PFA) proposal from the FIFA Congress agenda on May 29.

If FIFA were to suspend Israel, it would bar all its teams and clubs from competing in international events, including World Cup qualifications. Although not uncommon, the world body has suspended nations mainly when a government has intervened in its soccer 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.

The PFA has said Israel continues to hamper its activities, complaining of restrictions on the movement of players between the Gaza Strip and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Israel cites security concerns for restrictions it imposes in the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority exercises limited self rule, and along the border with the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the Islamist group Hamas.

In a letter to all the FIFA members, Eini appealed for them to reject PFA chief Jibril Rajoub’s 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 endeavor 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 garner 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 soccer, 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.

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