Palestinian soccer chief urges Atletico Madrid to cancel Jerusalem game
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Palestinian soccer chief urges Atletico Madrid to cancel Jerusalem game

Israeli billionaire who owns 15% stake in Spanish team says game with Beitar will go ahead, adds ‘sports is supposed to be a bridge between nations and people and not a divider’

Atletico forward Antoine Griezmann, left, Atletico midfielder Thomas Partey, and Barcelona's Sergio Busquets, right, vie for the ball during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between FC Barcelona and Atletico Madrid at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday April 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Atletico forward Antoine Griezmann, left, Atletico midfielder Thomas Partey, and Barcelona's Sergio Busquets, right, vie for the ball during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between FC Barcelona and Atletico Madrid at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday April 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

The head of the Palestinian Football Association has sent letters to the European and Spanish associations demanding Spanish soccer giants Atletico Madrid cancel a post-season friendly match with an Israeli team in Jerusalem.

Palestinian soccer chief Jibril Rajoub sent a letter to Atletico calling on them to scrap the planned May 21 game with Beitar Jerusalem, a controversial Israeli team.

“We are not against playing in Israel, but not in occupied Jerusalem,” the letter said, according to a post on the football association’s Facebook page late Thursday.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem its undivided capital but the Palestinians seek the eastern part of the city as the capital of their future state.

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 Teddy Stadium, where the game will be played, is in West Jerusalem.

However, Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer, who owns a 15% stake in the Spanish club, told Channel 13 the game will go ahead.

“Atletico will play in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. Sports is supposed to be a bridge between nations and people and not a divider,” he said.

Channel 13 also noted that Rajoub was himself granted permission to come to Israel this week to receive medical treatment.

The complaint was reminiscent of a similar one ahead of the 2018 World Cup, when Argentina was due to play Israel in Jerusalem as part of its warm-up for the tournament.

That game was eventually canceled after pressure from pro-Palestinian campaigners, though Rajoub was sanctioned by FIFA for comments in which he called on fans to burn replicas of Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi’s shirt.

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 said there were many Atletico fans in the Palestinian territories who were shocked they would play against Beitar, who he labelled as “high level racists.”

Beitar has a controversial history in Israel, being the only team to have never signed an Arab Muslim player.

Beitar, whose fans have been known to chant “Death to Arabs” at matches, has struggled to change its racist image.

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