FIFA chief promises help for Palestinian soccer

Sepp Blatter says he will assist team with Israeli bureaucratic troubles, including easing travel restrictions

FIFA President Sepp Blatter and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, October 2008. (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash 90)
FIFA President Sepp Blatter and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, October 2008. (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash 90)

RAMALLAH, West Bank — FIFA President Sepp Blatter says he is determined to solve the Palestinian Football Association’s ongoing problems with Israel in high-level meetings.

Some members of the Palestinian national team have been prevented from travel by Israeli security restrictions.

The head of the Palestinian association has called for FIFA sanctions against Israel.

Blatter told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a meeting Monday that “we shall find a solution” but that “it will not be so easy to deal on the other side,” meaning Israel.

Blatter says he is meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday.

Blatter pledged his support, telling a beaming Abbas that “your people, but also your football association, is not alone in the world.”

Blatter says he is a “self-declared ambassador of the Palestine people.”

The Palestinians will demand that Israel be suspended from soccer’s international association unless Netanyahu recognizes the status of the Palestinian Football Association, PFA Chairman Jibril Rajoub threatened earlier Monday.

“If Netanyahu does not stand up and declare that he agrees to the status that FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football ASsociation) has granted us, we will demand their removal on the tenth of June in Brazil,” Rajoub told The Times of Israel.

Palestinian soccer officials have long complained that Israeli restrictions on movement inside the West Bank and between the Palestinian territory and Israel, 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.

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.

The Palestinians would only hold back their appeal to FIFA if Netanyahu recognizes the PFA’s status as a member of FIFA as well as its right to be a member of the Israel Football Association, according to Rajoub.

Rajoub also said that IFA chairman Avi Luzon had told him in private that Luzon did not have the power to fix the situation, and added that he felt the PFA’s chances with FIFA were “very good”

However, Israel Football Association CEO Rotem Kemer said in April during a European soccer congress in Kazakhstan that he doubted Israel would be sanctioned over of the problem, which he said the IFA was making efforts to solve.

Kemer further maintained that the Palestinians must not threaten to seek Israel’s expulsion because “it has never been the policy of FIFA and UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) to mix politics and sport.”

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