FIFA delays decision on Israel’s settlement soccer clubs
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FIFA delays decision on Israel’s settlement soccer clubs

World body’s envoy to region says full report into Palestinian complaint will be delivered next month

Children watch a soccer training session in the West Bank settlement of Givat Ze'ev, near Jerusalem, Sept. 22, 2016 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Children watch a soccer training session in the West Bank settlement of Givat Ze'ev, near Jerusalem, Sept. 22, 2016 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

ZURICH, Switzerland — Palestinian hopes that FIFA would get tough on Israel were muted Friday when world soccer’s governing body put off a decision on Israeli clubs based in settlements in the West Bank.

The Palestine Football Association this week called on FIFA to either expel the six clubs in settlements, which are widely regarded as illegal under international law, or relocate them within Israel’s recognized borders.

The issue had been on the agenda at a meeting of the powerful FIFA Council, with world soccer’s president Gianni Infantino describing sporting tensions on the contested land as one of his “top priorities.”

But FIFA’s envoy to the region, South African powerbroker Tokyo Sexwale, said he was unable to deliver a final report to the council because his committee “was not able to meet.”

He said the full report should be ready next month.

Ofer Eini (right), Israel's soccer chief, shakes hands with his Palestinian counterpart Jibril Rajoub at FIFA's Zurich congress, May 29, 2015 (Channel 2 screenshot)
Ofer Eini (right), Israel’s soccer chief, shakes hands with his Palestinian counterpart Jibril Rajoub at FIFA’s Zurich congress, May 29, 2015 (Channel 2 screenshot)

Infantino, who took charge of FIFA in February, told reporters he would visit the region “when [his presence] would have an impact and when there has been progress.”

FIFA has asked both sides to attend a meeting next month, “with an open, constructive spirit to find a solution for football.”

“We are not a political body and we are not trying to solve political problems,” he added at the close of the two-day council meet.

“The situation with the six clubs remains open. We’ll let the commission work.”

Wilfried Lemke, the special advisor to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on sport and peace, wrote to FIFA last week voicing support for the Palestinian case.

The Israel Football Association has accused the Palestinians of dragging sport “from the football field into a political one,” saying it wants to develop the game as a “bridge connecting people and not as a wall that divides them.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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