Palestinian soccer chief loses appeal over Messi incitement
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Palestinian soccer chief loses appeal over Messi incitement

International court upholds 1-year suspension and fine for Jibril Rajoub, saying his punishment for stoking hatred and violence was ‘not disproportionate’

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)

The international Court of Arbitration for Sport on Thursday dismissed an appeal by the head of Palestinian soccer against his ban for “inciting hatred and violence” toward Argentine superstar Lionel Messi.

In August 2018, international soccer’s governing body FIFA banned Jibril Rajoub from attending matches for a year and fined him 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,600) after he called on fans to burn posters and shirts of Messi if he played in a game against Israel in Jerusalem in June of that year.

The court, a quasi-judicial body which handles international sports disputes, said in a statement that its judging panel had decided that FIFA’s sanctions against Jibril Rajoub “were not disproportionate.”

“After taking due consideration of all the evidence produced and all arguments made, the CAS Panel found that Jibril Rajoub had failed to establish that any procedural violations were committed in the proceedings… that could justify the annulment of such decisions,” the court said in a statement.

Rajoub’s ban expires next month, on August 23, before the Palestinian national team’s first 2022 World Cup qualifying game at home against Uzbekistan on September 5. However, he is currently still able to continue running the federation and attend FIFA meetings.

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)

Rajoub had denied any wrongdoing after the ban was announced.

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

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

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

Argentina eventually canceled the trip to Jerusalem for the 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.

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.

President of the Palestinian Football Federation, Major General Jibril Rajoub speaks during a press conference in Ramallah on February 12, 2014. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

FIFA is currently conducting an investigation against Rajoub on suspicion that he breached its bylaws by glorifying terrorism and inciting hatred and violence, a pro-Palestinian website and an Israeli NGO said last month.

FIFA’s ethics committee sent a letter to Rajoub in January saying there was apparent evidence that he had violated its rules and requiring him to respond in writing if he wants to challenge a range of examples, included in a 2017 complaint by the nonprofit watchdog group Palestinian Media Watch.

The confidential letter FIFA sent to Rajoub had been leaked by pro-Palestinian website Electronic Intifada.

“FIFA Ethics Committee has opened these investigation proceedings after having determined that, on the basis of a document and relevant evidence submitted by Palestinian Media Watch… there is a prima facie case that you may have committed violations of the FIFA Code of Ethics,” the January 8 letter to Rajoub said.

The letter by FIFA’s chief of investigation in the Ethics Committee, Martin Ngoga, cited many alleged examples of Rajoub’s “promotion and glorification of terrorism,” “incitement to hatred and violence,” “discriminatory/denigratory statements and prohibiting the use of [soccer] as a bridge to peace” and the “use of [soccer] to promote a political agenda.”

Among the examples, most of which PMW said are supported by video evidence, are Rajoub allowing soccer tournaments and teams to be named after convicted terrorists who killed Israeli civilians, supporting a wave of Palestinian stabbing attacks in 2015-2016 and the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, refusing to approve the use of soccer to build bridges between Israel and the Palestinians, referring to Israelis as “sons of bitches,” likening the Jewish state to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, and abusing his position to try to ban Israel from FIFA and to promote his and his Fatah party’s political goals.

If Rajoub is found guilty, PMW said, he will face heavy fines and a ban on taking part in any soccer-related activities for up to five years.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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