Former UK soccer chief comes to Israel’s defense in FIFA row

Speaking exclusively to 'The Jerusalem Post', Simon Johnson disclosed that he has written to FIFA and to many of his soccer management contacts internationally.

By JERRY LEWIS
May 20, 2015 01:27
3 minute read.
Israel fans hold placards during their Euro 2016 Group B qualifying soccer match against Wales

Israel fans hold placards during their Euro 2016 Group B qualifying soccer match against Wales at the Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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LONDON – One of English soccer’s former top executives, Simon Johnson, has launched a campaign to stop Israel being suspended from FIFA.

Speaking exclusively to The Jerusalem Post, he disclosed that he has written to FIFA and to many of his soccer management contacts internationally in an attempt to stave off the proposal of the Palestinian soccer association which is due to be debated by FIFA next week.

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Johnson, now the chief executive of the UK Jewish Leadership Council, said he sent letters to a wide range of international figures including FIFA’s General Secretary Jerome Valcke; the president of CONCACAF (the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football) and FIFA Vice President Jeffrey Webb; the Oceania Football Confederation’s General Secretary Tai Nicholas; and the president of the US Soccer Federation and FIFA Executive Committee member Sunil Gulati.

Johnson, who until a year ago was director of corporate affairs at the English Football Association and in charge of the England’s bid for the 2018 World Cup, told the Post that if the Palestinians’ proposal to exclude Israel were to pass, “It would be an appalling act of delegitimization.

It would be humiliating for Israel, would be worldwide headline news and give the BDS movement a major shot in the arm.

“I have expressed to FIFA the strong concern of the UK Jewish community at the prospect of a proposal to suspend the Israel Football Association being discussed and put to a vote at the forthcoming FIFA Congress. If the IFA were actually to be suspended by the FIFA Congress, it would have a devastatingly damaging impact upon the reputation of FIFA amongst the UK Jewish community and all those who abhor the delegitimization of the State of Israel,” Johnson said.

FIFA was facing a politically motivated proposal, he added.

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“Even putting this matter to a vote risks bringing a complex and emotive international political conflict on to the floor of the FIFA Congress and to the heart of the international football family. It will doubtless overshadow the Election Congress. Any debate on the matter would be controversial, and, even if the vote to suspend were not to be approved, the unity of the football family at the time of a Congress would be shattered, in a public and controversial manner,” he continued.

In his letter Johnson told recipients that soccer had long been above international politics and had been able to provide hope and optimism in areas where there are conflicts.

In the long history of FIFA, through many international political disputes, the FIFA Congress had, he believed, never voted to suspend a member association, he said.

“During the Balkan conflict, the Afghan and Iraq wars, the Somalia conflict, the civil wars in Sudan and in the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine, FIFA has kept itself above politics and has not taken steps that might favor one side or another in a political conflict.”

Johnson told FIFA and other leading international soccer authority figures that if, in those circumstances, it were to debate and vote to suspend the IFA, having not done so in respect of any other member association, FIFA would be unfairly discriminating against the State of Israel.

“That would be rightly seen as hugely discriminatory and prejudicial not just by the UK Jewish community, but by Jewish communities all round the world. It would tarnish the reputation of FIFA and bring criticism from governments and parliamentarians for allowing football to become embroiled in a complex international political dispute.”

It is understood that Israel’s Ambassador to Britain Daniel Taub has written to the chief executives of each of the four football associations in the UK – the English, Scottish, Welsh and that from Northern Ireland – along similar lines.

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