A top Israeli soccer official dismissed the possibility that Israel would be kicked out of FIFA, the international professional soccer association, because of lack of progress on resolving travel restrictions for Palestinian players.
FIFA officials have said they want to see the long-simmering issue resolved, and in February the Palestinian Football Association said that it would seek to expel Israel from FIFA during the FIFA congress this summer in Sao Paolo unless conditions improved.
Israel Football Association head Rotem Kemer said last week during an European soccer congress in Kazakhstan that he doubted Israel would be sanctioned because of the problem, which he stressed the Israel soccer association was making efforts to solve.
“We are making our best efforts in order to help the Palestinian association. We are trying to make things easier for them. I don’t think we will be expelled from FIFA because we are making good progress with the Palestinians,” Kemer said, according to a Monday report in Inside World Football, a soccer business news website.
Kemer stressed that “we are on the right track” and said it wasn’t right to threaten expulsion because “it has never been the policy of FIFA and UEFA to mix politics and sport.”
Palestinian soccer officials have long complained that Israeli restrictions on movement into and out of the West Bank, which Jerusalem maintains are necessary for security, have made it difficult for them to compete on an international level. In 2010, Israel’s denial of travel documents to several players and officials caused the Palestinian team to forfeit its place in World Cup qualifying matches, and in 2013 teams from Iraq, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates had trouble entering the West Bank for a youth tournament.
In February, Palestinian Football Association head Jibril Rajoub, who is also a high-ranking Fatah official, said that as a result of the ongoing travel restrictions he would seek “the expulsion of Israel from FIFA and the International Olympic Committee” and said that he had enlisted the support of several Muslim states, including Iran, Jordan and Tunisia.
FIFA recognizes the Palestinian national team as a full-fledged member. Last year, FIFA President Sepp Blatter announced that a task force had been formed to resolve the issue and that a solution would be found by the end of 2013.
Blatter said that progress on the travel restrictions was made during a discussion between FIFA, Israeli and Palestinian officials earlier in March in Zurich, according to a Tuesday Haaretz report. Blatter said that he would meet again with Israeli and Palestinian soccer officials before the FIFA Sao Paolo congress in June.
The 150th-ranked Palestine team’s next important international match, when it needs players to travel freely, is at the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup, to be held in the Maldives over May 19-30. The winner of the eight-nation tournament advances to the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.