Syrian soccer player Firas Al-Khatib was expelled on Monday from the national team after he played in a showcase match with an Israeli coach.
The Syrian Olympic Committee announced that Al-Khatib was being expelled from the National Olympic Committee and General Sports Federation for "violating the values and ideals of the organization and deviating from its national principles."
The showcase match at the FIFA Arab Cup starred former soccer players from Arab countries and around the world. The team of world legends was coached by Israeli Avram Grant. Three Algerian soccer players withdrew from the match and a number of Arab players erased the Israeli flags from their shirts in protest against Grant's involvement.
Al-Khatib, for his part, expressed shock at the Syrian Olympic Committee's decision, writing in a post on his social media accounts that the penalty was "unjust" and that he was not summoned in advance to provide answers about the situation.
The soccer player stressed that he was not aware that Grant was participating in the match and that he has documents that can confirm this. He added that Grant's name was not on the list he was provided with before the match and that he was only made aware that Grant was participating on the day of the match.
Al-Khatib stated that, despite Grant's participation, he decided to take part in the match "due to his concern for the presence of Syria's name on such a festive occasion." He added that he was "surprised" by the presence of the Israeli flag on the shirt he wore and that he had clearly removed the flag from the shirt, as did a number of other players.
The soccer player apologized to "supporters of the Palestinian cause in all parts of the world and to the Palestinian people everywhere" for any "psychological distress" his participation may have caused. He stressed his "firm position" on the Palestinian cause which matches up with the position of the Syrian state.
Al-Khatib attacked Syrian General Sports Federation head Firas Moualla in the post as well, saying that Moualla has participated in more than one tournament that included Israeli athletes, yet "we never questioned his patriotism or demanded that he be deprived and punished because we knew for certain that he is a loyal citizen for the Palestinian cause and is committed to the principles of the Syrian Olympic Committee."