Palestinian soccer chief to appeal FIFA ban for his incitement against Messi
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Palestinian soccer chief to appeal FIFA ban for his incitement against Messi

Jibril Rajoub barred for a year from attending games in official capacity after inciting ‘hatred and violence’ by calling to burn jerseys and pictures of Argentinian player

Head of the Palestinian Football Association Jibril Rajoub speaks during a press conference in front of Argentinian representative office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, June 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
Head of the Palestinian Football Association Jibril Rajoub speaks during a press conference in front of Argentinian representative office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, June 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The head of the Palestinian Football Association, Jibril Rajoub, said Saturday he will appeal FIFA’s decision to ban him for a year for inciting fans to hatred and violence against Argentine superstar Lionel Messi as part of his campaign to stop Argentina’s national team from playing a friendly game in Israel this summer.

Rajoub had called on Arab soccer fans to burn Messi posters and shirts if he participated in an Argentina game in Jerusalem in June. The campaign led to Argentina canceling the World Cup warm-up match.

He was banned from attending any soccer matches in an official capacity for 12 months starting Friday.

On Saturday, Rajoub told The Associated Press he was consulting with his lawyers and will “use every possible opportunity” to fight the decision. He spoke by phone from China and said he was planning a press conference upon his return to Ramallah later this week.

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’s Palestine Football Association has lashed out at the decision by the international soccer’s ruling body as biased and “absurd.”

Rajoub was not granted a hearing and his testimony was not considered by the disciplinary committee, the PFA 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.

FIFA said Rajoub “incited hatred and violence” by calling on soccer fans to target the Argentinian Football Association and burn jerseys and pictures of Lionel Messi. He 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 abandoned 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 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. It prevents Rajoub from attending matches or engaging with the media at or near stadiums on match days for a year. Rajoub, who is also head of the Palestinian Olympic Committee, was fined 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,300).

The punishment marks an embarrassing blow for Rajoub, who has long lobbied FIFA to sanction Israel for what he 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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