Israel working with FIFA to solve border issues

Netanyahu meets with Blatter as soccer boss wraps up Middle East diplomacy mission.

By MATTHEW MATILSKY
July 9, 2013 23:25
4 minute read.
Sepp Blatter and Avi Luzon

Sepp Blatter and Avi Luzon370. (photo credit: Reuters)

FIFA President Sepp Blatter announced his plans on Tuesday to form a task force dealing with Palestinian complaints over restrictions athletes and soccer officials face at border crossings controlled by Israel.

The head of world soccer’s governing body met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, concluding a four-day tour of the Middle East.

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Blatter said he will team up with heads of Israeli, Palestinian, European and Asian soccer organizations to discuss the issue in September.

“I have asked the prime minister to help me and to help football to try to solve this problem and he said yes,” Blatter said. “He has also asked me to help him, and to help the State of Israel, that football shall not be [used] as a leverage of any other activities and especially not political movements.”

Blatter’s tour of the region has included visits with sports officials and politicians on all sides of the border, part of an effort to tackle an issue which blends sports with diplomacy and reflects the politics of the region.

Blatter says Israel is working with FIFA towards a solution to a problem which has the Palestinian Football Association calling on sanctions for Israel. Blatter spent Monday with Palestinian soccer authorities and was awarded an honorary doctorate degree at An Najah University in the West Bank.

If Blatter was charmed by his visit to Palestine, Netanyahu did his part to reverse that when the two met on Tuesday.

According to a statement released by the prime minister’s media adviser, Netanyahu displayed for his guest aerial photographs of missile launch sites in the Gaza football stadium, a building that was hit by rockets in Rishon Lezion and a civilian video showing an Israeli soccer match between Beersheba and Um Al-Fahm interrupted by rocket fire in March 2012.

“Netanyahu explained to Blatter why there are sometimes problems with the travel of Palestinian players and showed him that every request made by the Palestinians since the start of the year had been approved,” Israel Football Association Chairman Avi Luzon said at Tuesday’s press conference.

“Blatter is Israeli soccer’s best ambassador.”

When the task force reaches its “first step,” Blatter said it will report to the executive committee of FIFA with the hopes of arranging another meeting between the government and soccer authorities in Israel.

“As a footballer I would say it is not so difficult to find a solution,” Blatter said. “Football is there to bring people together. Football is [not] there to…have borders But now there is a situation here [where] you have these borders.”

Blatter said Netanyahu’s willingness to meet with him proved Israel’s responsiveness on the matter.

“We don’t need any other specialists in this task force. It is a question of the famous Article 18 in the laws of the game, which is common sense, and we must use this common sense,” he said.

However, what seems to be further aggravating FIFA is a report Blatter recently received from Israeli Sports Minister Limor Livnat on an unrelated issue.

In the report, Livnat calls for Luzon’s resignation, saying that a conflict of interest involving his affiliation with Maccabi Petah Tikva leaves him unfit to represent the IFA .

FIFA demonstrated its feelings towards government involvement in national soccer politics last week, suspending the Football Association of Cameroon after ruling that the Cameroon government had interfered with its national federation’s elections in June.

“I’m not going to make any threats,” Blatter said. “It’s not up to make to me to make threats against governmental authorities. But I have to say if such a report will be accepted and implemented, then this federation would face difficulties.”

Blatter said if the government took the measures proposed in the report, FIFA wouldn’t hesitate to suspend financial support for everyone from the Israeli national team down to club teams, youth teams, coaches and referees.

In such a scenario, teams would also be ineligible to take part in international competitions.

“It’s not a yellow card, it’s just a warning that if such a thing would happen, we have no other alternative to do that, because our statutes are very clear.”

Asked if he or Prime Minister Netanyahu offered any concrete plans to improve the situation, Blatter shied away from discussing political problems, saying “we have first to identify exactly what has happened in the past, what are the problems [FIFA has] faced… and how we are going to identify them.”

“Jerusalem is 3,300 years old and it has not been built in one day, and so we cannot do it in one step, but in two or three steps I am sure that we will be able to find a satisfactory solution,” he said.


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