Europeans won’t boycott FIFA meeting, boosting Israel
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Europeans won’t boycott FIFA meeting, boosting Israel

Palestinian soccer chief says Ramallah still open to rescinding vote on suspending Israel from world soccer body

UEFA President Michel Platini (L) stands next to the UEFA Europa League trophy in Warsaw, Poland on May 27, 2015. (AFP/Piotr Hawale)
UEFA President Michel Platini (L) stands next to the UEFA Europa League trophy in Warsaw, Poland on May 27, 2015. (AFP/Piotr Hawale)

Europe’s soccer federation will not boycott meeting of world soccer body FIFA’s congress and presidential election in Zurich on Friday, Dutch federation president Michael van Praag said following a meeting of the European governing body.

“There will be no UEFA boycott because there are also (apart from the presidential election) important issues to be decided like the Israel/Palestine question,” said van Praag on Thursday.

UEFA had said earlier in the day that it was considering boycotting the FIFA meeting, as anger grows over a massive bribery scandal that has rocked the organization. UEFA’s absence from the meeting could have hurt Israel’s chances to defeat a Palestinian bid to have it suspended in a vote.

Palestine, which has been a FIFA member since 1998, wants the governing body to expel Israel over its restrictions on the movement of Palestinian players.

Palestinian football chief Jibril Rajoub on Thursday appeared to soften his stance on the threatened vote, saying it could be rescinded if Israel makes demanded reforms to ease freedom of movement for Palestinian players.

The Union of European Football Associations, better known as UEFA, wants a vote over the continued tenure of FIFA head Sepp Blatter delayed in light of the crisis, according to several news reports.

With 54 votes in the 209 member body, EUFA represents a critical bloc that has said it will vote against the Palestinian Football Association proposal to suspend Israel from FIFA, to be voted on during the same Friday congress.

Rajoub told AFP the Palestinians were still open to pulling back the vote.

“We remain open until the last moment,” he said.

“Everything is possible and we are open to every scenario,” added Rajoub, who met with Blatter on Wednesday.

Palestine, which has been a FIFA member since 1998, wants the governing body to expel Israel over its restrictions on the movement of Palestinian players.

It also opposes the participation in the Israeli championships of five clubs located in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The vote is scheduled for Friday and needs a two-thirds majority of the 209 members to succeed.

Israeli officials have called the effort blatantly political and said that the Palestinians’ complaints all relate to Israel’s security forces — not Israel’s soccer teams.

President Reuven Rivlin reiterated Thursday that “the Palestinian attempt to advance boycotts is a strategic threat” against Israel, Israeli Radio reported the president as saying, also calling for a separation between politics on the one hand and sports or academics on the other.

Leaders of FIFA have been working hard behind the scenes to head off the vote. And last week Blatter even went to both Israel and the Palestinian territories to try and find a solution.

“Negotiations are still going on but they are very complicated,” a top FIFA official speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP on Wednesday.

“There may not be a solution until the final hours.”

Scandal amid election

In the wake of the scandal, some European leaders have renewed calls for Blatter to resign.

“Sepp Blatter has to go as FIFA president,” said Greg Dyke, chairman of the English Football Association, which lost out to Russia for the 2018 tournament.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter, right, releases a dove next to Palestine Football Association President Jibril Rajoub, during his visit to the West Bank on May 20, 2015. (AFP/ABBAS MOMANI)
FIFA president Sepp Blatter, right, releases a dove next to Palestine Football Association President Jibril Rajoub, during his visit to the West Bank on May 20, 2015. (AFP/ABBAS MOMANI)

Blatter is preparing for the FIFA presidential election with world soccer reeling from the arrest of key officials in Switzerland on Wednesday at the behest of indictments by the US Department of Justice on bribery, fraud and other charges. US authorities investigating corruption have indicted executives including FIFA vice presidents Jeffrey Webb and Eugenio Figueredo.

The charges relate to the selection process for the 2018 Russian and 2022 Qatari FIFA World Cup tournaments. US documents also indicate that South Africa paid $10 million in bribes to FIFA officials to secure the 2010 World Cup.

South Africa has dismissed those claims as “baseless.”

Blatter has stayed out of the public eye since the arrests Wednesday, skipping two meetings of continental soccer organizations from Africa and South America. He typically would attend those ahead of Friday’s annual congress of FIFA’s 209 member federations.

The FIFA Congress will see Blatter challenged by Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan for the presidency on Friday.

The Asian Football Confederation has said it opposes any move to delay Friday’s scheduled elections despite the crisis. The African and Asian confederations have reaffirmed their support for Blatter. UEFA is backing Prince Ali.

The Asian Football Confederation “expresses its disappointment and sadness at Wednesday’s events in Zurich whilst opposing any delay in the FIFA presidential elections,” a statement said.

Asian Football Confederation members hold 47 of the 209 votes in the FIFA election, behind the Confederation of African Football (56 votes) and UEFA (54).

World Cup sponsors threaten pullout

And Visa became the first sponsor to issue a warning to FIFA amid the worst scandal in the governing body’s 111-year history.

Coca-Cola, Adidas, McDonald’s and Budweiser all spoke out against the corruption scandal. Corporate backers provide hundreds of millions of dollars to FIFA’s finances.

Demanding immediate steps to rebuild a “culture with strong ethical practices,” Visa said: “Should FIFA fail to do so, we have informed them that we will reassess our sponsorship.”

It was unclear what steps Visa might accept to maintain its sponsor status for the tournament.

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