Palestinians refuse to back down on Israel FIFA vote
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Palestinians refuse to back down on Israel FIFA vote

As mass corruption charges rock soccer governing body, Palestinian soccer president Jibril Rajoub says 'nothing has changed'

Head of the Palestinian Football Association Jibril Rajoub speaks during a press conference in Ramallah on February 12, 2014. (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Head of the Palestinian Football Association Jibril Rajoub speaks during a press conference in Ramallah on February 12, 2014. (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

The Palestinians’ soccer chief on Wednesday refused to back down on a threatened vote to expel Israel from soccer’s governing body after talks with FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

Earlier, Arab delegations walked out of a confederation meeting when Israel’s Football Association president tried to address them.

“Nothing has changed, the vote is still on the agenda,” Palestinian Football Association president Jibril Rajoub told AFP after the meeting with Blatter and as the countdown to Friday’s vote gathered pace.

“The meeting lasted about one hour, there were no results,” Rajoub said.

The Palestinians, who have been members of FIFA since 1998, want the governing body to expel Israel over its restrictions on the movement of Palestinian players.

The vote is scheduled for Friday and needs a two-thirds majority of the 209 members to succeed.

Blatter has been lobbying furiously to try to avoid the vote, even going to the Middle East last week to meet Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Blatter strongly opposes the vote, saying it injects politics into soccer and that Israel has not breached FIFA’s statutes.

Israel soccer association President Ofer Eini was not in Wednesday’s meeting and his delegation did not say whether contacts with Blatter or Rajoub were planned.

Arab delegations at a Confederation of African Football meeting walked out when Eini addressed the confederation in a Zurich hotel.

Rajoub said he opposed the protest and the Arab delegations should have stayed.

Meanwhile, Blatter admitted Wednesday that FIFA faces a “difficult time” because of a major corruption storm but vowed any officials found guilty would be expelled from the sport. Blatter gave his first reaction to the arrest of seven officials in Zurich as part of a US corruption probe with FIFA provisionally banning 11 people over their alleged involvement in the scandal.

“This is a difficult time for football [soccer], the fans and for FIFA as an organization. We understand the disappointment that many have expressed and I know that the events of today will impact the way in which many people view us,” Blatter said in a statement.

“Let me be clear: such misconduct has no place in football [soccer] and we will ensure that those who engage in it are put out of the game,” added Blatter who is standing for re-election on Friday.

The FIFA chief welcomed the investigation by US and Swiss authorities saying “it will help to reinforce measures that FIFA has already taken to root out any wrongdoing in football [soccer].

“While there will be many who are frustrated with the pace of change, I would like to stress the actions that we have taken and will continue to take.”

Blatter said FIFA had asked Switzerland’s attorney general to investigate the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively.

An illustrative photo of construction for the World Cup 2022 in Qatar. (photo credit: Shutterstock images)
An illustrative photo of construction for the World Cup 2022 in Qatar. (photo credit: Shutterstock images)

“We will continue to work with the relevant authorities and we will work vigorously within FIFA in order to root out any misconduct, to regain your trust and ensure that football [soccer] worldwide is free from wrongdoing,” said Blatter, who faces mounting pressure over his leadership.

Later Wednesday, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called for all World Cups and soccer activities to be investigated. “I think that any investigation on this question is very important,” Rousseff, whose country hosted last year’s tournament, told reporters during a trip to Mexico City. “I think that it will allow a better professionalization of football [soccer]. I don’t see how this can harm Brazilian football [soccer]. It can only benefit Brazil.”

“I think that if it has to be investigated, investigate all cups, all activities,” she said.

Rousseff said that under Brazilian law, her country’s authorities would have the power to investigate how public money was spent during the World Cup.

Brazil’s Jose Maria Marin, current member FIFA’s organizing committee for the Olympic soccer tournaments, was among those charged by the US in the corruption scandal. He was among seven people arrested in Zurich on Wednesday.

According to the allegations published Wednesday, former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner asked for and accepted bribes during the selection processes for the 1998 and 2010 World Cups in France and South Africa. The charge that the choice of host countries was tainted by corruption, was just a fraction of a slew of allegations aimed at some of soccer’s most influential decision-makers.

The Trinidadian’s name was on a list the FIFA officials and business executives who “abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks,” US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in New York.

US Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch speaks during the announcement of charges against FIFA officials at a news conference on May 27, 2015 in New York (AFP /DON EMMERT)
US Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch speaks during the announcement of charges against FIFA officials at a news conference on May 27, 2015 in New York (AFP /DON EMMERT)

Warner, 72, who protested his innocence on Facebook, had harnessed his power at the highest levels of soccer administration as far back as the early 1990s for personal gain, the US indictment read.

Part of the lengthy indictment reads: “Among other things, Warner began to solicit and accept bribes in connection with his official duties, including the selection of the host nation for the World Cups held in 1998 and 2010, which he participated in as a member of the FIFA executive committee.”

France hosted the 1998 World Cup, seeing off a bid from Morocco, and the 2010 tournament went to South Africa.

Lynch said that the process that saw the World Cup go to South Africa was mired in corruption.

“Around 2004, bidding began for the opportunity to host the 2010 World Cup, which was ultimately awarded to South Africa, the first time the tournament would be held on the African continent,” she told a news conference.

“But even for this historic event, FIFA executives and others corrupted the process by using bribes to influence the hosting decision.”

Warner, who left FIFA in 2011 after being suspended by an ethics committee looking into corruption, was also CONCACAF president and a special advisor to the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation.

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