FIFA president Sepp Blatter shakes hands with IFA chairman Ofer Eini, chairman of the Israel Football Association in Jerusalem May 19, 2015..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel Football Association officials continued in their efforts to thwart the Palestinian request to ban Israel from FIFA on Wednesday, lobbying the power brokers at world soccer’s governing body in Switzerland ahead of the organization’s annual Congress, which gets under way today in Zurich.
IFA chairman Ofer Eini has met with officials in Zurich over recent days, with former IFA chairman and current UEFA Executive Committee member Avi Luzon to arrive in Switzerland on Thursday and lend a helping hand.
The vast majority of UEFA delegates are expected to vote against the proposal, assuming it does eventually come to a vote.
Friday’s potential vote may be close, depending on the rules that are to be applied.
The Palestinians think their proposal requires a simple majority, but FIFA rules say any suspension vote needs a 75 percent majority. Assuming that holds, it is likely the Palestinian proposal will be defeated.
When visiting the region last week, FIFA President Sepp Blatter said that the suspension of the membership of any FIFA member would be an “historic and dangerous precedent.”
The PFA’s bid to have Israel suspended from FIFA cites Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinian players, hold ups in the delivery of equipment, and the fact five Israeli league teams are based in the West Bank.
Israel’s football association says it is doing what it can to resolve these problems, but that it is the government that is responsible for movement and security issues.
The racist behavior of some Beitar Jerusalem fans is also part of the PFA complaint.
“Racism in Israeli football has become part of the culture,” said Jibril Rajoub, chairman of the PFA.
Those on the other side of the argument note that Arabs, who make up 20 percent of Israel’s population, have played for every team in Israel’s professional soccer league with the exception of Beitar Jerusalem, and to high acclaim for the national squad.
But it is Beitar, and notorious fan-group La Familia, that have become synonymous with Palestinian accusations of racism.
While not dismissing the problem, the IFA points out that racism is a scourge in soccer in many other countries, from the top flight in England, Spain and Italy to smaller clubs in Russia and Brazil.
But when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, the debate takes on a political hue.
“You see anti-Semitic behavior around the world at football matches,” said Rotem Kamer, the chief executive of the IFA, calling it unfair to single out Israel.
“In the same way other football associations are fighting these phenomena, we are doing it as well.”
The IFA deducted a point from Beitar this year because of fans’ racist abuse of an Arab player from an opposing team.
Kamer said this showed the association was getting tough.
“If the problem is sports related I’m sure it can be solved,” Eini said before departing for Switzerland. “I’m an optimistic man, but it isn’t over until it’s over.”