Protesting Argentina’s upcoming friendly soccer match against Israel, the Palestinians on Monday threatened to torpedo the Latin American country’s bid to host the 2030 World Cup.
“It is with regret that we hereby declare that, should the Argentinian National team continue its plans to play in Jerusalem, we will launch a worldwide campaign to question Argentina’s eligibility to host the FIFA World Cup 2030,” the Palestinian Football Association said in a statement.
The Argentine squad, led by its superstar striker Lionel Messi, is set to play Israel on Saturday evening in the Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium, which has a capacity of 31,733 seats.
Argentina, a two-time world champion and a contender to win the cup this summer, has confirmed its bid to host the 2030 tournament, together with Paraguay and Uruguay.
“The Palestinian Football Family calls upon the Argentinian Football association, and the Argentinian national team, to refrain from being used, by politicians in the Israeli Government, as a tool to normalize the illegal annexation of Occupied East Jerusalem, and to whitewash the Israeli systematic violations of international law and human rights,” the statement read.
By accepting the invitation to play “in the occupied city of Jerusalem,” Argentina risks being considered “unworthy” of hosting the 2030 World Cup, the statement continued.
Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day war and later annexed it in a move not recognized by much of the international community. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state and have been enraged over recent moves by the US to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move its embassy there from Tel Aviv.
The stadium is in West Jerusalem.
The statement said the game would “send a message that the stars of Argentina are lending legitimacy to the illegal actions of an occupation that systematically abuses the human rights of around 5 million Palestinians struggling under its yoke.”
The match is Argentina’s final match before flying to the World Cup in Russia, which begins a few days later and has caused a frenzy in Israel. Tickets sold out within 20 minutes of going on sale last month.
On Sunday Palestinian football boss Jibril Rajoub called on Messi not to play in the match and urged fans to burn their shirts if he does.
At a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah he told journalists he had written to Argentina’s government asking that Messi not take part in the June 9 friendly.
“This match has become a political tool,” Rajoub said in Arabic.
“The Israeli government is trying to give it political significance by insisting it be held in Jerusalem.”
“Messi is a symbol of peace and love,” Rajoub said.
“We ask him not to participate in laundering the crimes of the occupation.”
Messi, he added, “has tens of millions of fans in the Arab and Muslim countries… we ask everyone to burn their shirts which bear his name and posters [with his image].”
AFP contributed to this report.