Palestinian soccer chief: Ban over Messi comments ‘political,’ pushed by Israel
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Palestinian soccer chief: Ban over Messi comments ‘political,’ pushed by Israel

Jibril Rajoub tells reporters he will appeal FIFA punishment for inciting against Argentine star over friendly match in Jerusalem

Palestinian Football Association (PFA) head and member of the Fatah Central Committee, Jibril Rajoub, speaks during a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah on September 3, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)
Palestinian Football Association (PFA) head and member of the Fatah Central Committee, Jibril Rajoub, speaks during a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah on September 3, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

In his first press conference since receiving a 12-month ban from FIFA, the head of the Palestinian Football Association on Monday pledged to appeal what he termed an “unjust and political decision.”

The international soccer ruling body last month banned Jibril Rajoub from attending matches for a year and fined him 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,600) for “inciting hatred and violence” after calling on fans to burn posters and shirts of superstar Lionel Messi if he participated in an Argentina game in Jerusalem in June. The campaign led to Argentina canceling the World Cup warm-up match.

Rajoub denied any wrongdoing in the affair.

“This is an unjust and political decision, an Israeli decision,” he said, pointing out that the complaint against him had come from the Israeli soccer federation, not the Argentinians.

“Of course we respect the FIFA committees and will continue to respect them and abide by their decisions,” he said. “On this basis we have decided to appeal and we will continue our efforts to fight the injustice occurring against the Palestinian union and the Palestinian players.”

This June 5, 2018, picture shows a poster erected in the West Bank town of Hebron calling for a boycott of soccer star Lionel Messi (l) next to a portrait of the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. (AFP PHOTO / HAZEM BADER)

The Palestinian federation had previously lashed out at the decision as biased and “absurd.”

Rajoub was not granted a hearing and his testimony was not considered by the disciplinary committee, the federation said. The ban will apply for the 2019 Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates, which kicks off in January, and likely include the start of the 2022 World Cup qualifying program.

But he is still able to continue running the federation and attend FIFA meetings.

Rajoub was filmed in June saying in Arabic, “We will target Messi and we will ask everyone to burn his T-shirt, his picture and to abandon him.”

Argentina eventually canceled the trip to Jerusalem for the June 9 game, which was meant to be a final warm-up before the 2018 World Cup. Argentina Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said at the time that players felt “totally attacked, violated” after images emerged of the team’s white and sky-blue striped jerseys stained with red paint resembling blood.

FIFA imposed the minimum ban allowed in its disciplinary code for inciting hatred or violence.

The punishment marked an embarrassing blow for Rajoub, who has long lobbied FIFA to sanction Israel for what he has called its restriction of movement of Palestinian players.

Israel has rejected the Palestinian campaign as an attempt to politicize sports and has cited security concerns as the reason behind the occasional restrictions placed on Palestinian players, particularly in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

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