PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu poses with FIFA President Sepp Blatter, IFA chairman Ofer Eini and Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev in the capital.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
FIFA President Sepp Blatter reiterated his stance that the Israel Football Association has not violated any statutes and should therefore not be suspended from world soccer’s governing body after meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
Blatter said he will convey that message to the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Football Association President Jibril Rajoub when he meets with them in Ramallah on Wednesday in the hope of convincing them to drop their proposal to ban Israel.
The Palestinian request is on the agenda for FIFA’s Congress on May 29, with a three-quarter majority of the 209 members necessary for it to pass.
The Palestinians claim that Israel has continued to hamper their soccer activities, imposing restrictions on the movement of their athletes between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The PFA has also cited curbs Israel places on the import into Palestinian territories of sports equipment and on visits by foreign teams and individuals.
Netanyahu fights to keep politics out of the game
Israel cites security concerns for the restrictions it imposes and the Israeli FA has argued that it has no control over security forces.
A suspension would mean that Israel, which is affiliated to UEFA (the Union of European Football Associations), could no longer compete in the Euro 2016 qualifiers and its clubs would be barred from European competition.
“We should not come to one federation saying we will exclude them,” said Blatter. “If the national association is fulfilling its obligations then there is no need to intervene. I’m on a mission for peace and not on a mission to force anybody to do something. The discussions that I will have with the Palestinians will evoke the messages I have obtained from Israel’s political authorities. What they do with this message is up to them. But I will try until the Congress begins to avoid such a situation [where a vote will be held]. Israel knows it and the Palestinians know it. It is not appropriate that in the Congress we say we shall suspended somebody.”
Blatter refused to elaborate on the discussions he had with Netanyahu, but revealed that the prime minister said he supports the FIFA president’s proposal to hold a friendly match between the Israel and Palestinian national teams at FIFA headquarters in Zurich.
“Football is more than a game. It has the power to connect people and to construct bridges,” said Blatter.
“I’m coming here and going to your neighbors to try and construct bridges and to try and make sure football is not dividing but that football is uniting.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu is happy to organize a football match for peace between the national team of Israel and national team of Palestine and we would be happy to hold it in Zurich.”
Netanyahu praised Blatter ahead of their meeting.
“Sport is a vehicle of goodwill among nations and the thing that could destroy it is politicizing it,” the prime minister said. “You politicize it once with Israel, you politicize it for everyone, and it will cause the deterioration of a great institution.”
Israel Football Association Chairman Ofer Eini said he was confident Israel would not be suspended.
“I’m certain that the FIFA president is doing his best to solve this problem,” he said. “If the problem is sports related I’m sure it can be solved. I’m an optimistic man, but it isn’t over until it’s over.”