Palestinians to call for sanctions against Israeli soccer at FIFA congress next month

Demand to punish Israel in the arena of international soccer will not be supported by FIFA, and Israel can expect backing from the 55-member European soccer body UEFA

Israel supporters cheer during the Euro 2024 qualifying play-off soccer match between Israel and Iceland, at Szusza Ferenc Stadium in Budapest, Hungary, Thursday, March 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
File: Israel supporters cheer during the Euro 2024 qualifying playoff soccer match between Israel and Iceland, at Szusza Ferenc Stadium in Budapest, Hungary, Thursday, March 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

GENEVA, Switzerland — Calls for action against Israel in international soccer because of the war with Hamas will be stepped up by Palestinian officials at the annual FIFA congress next month.

The Palestine Football Association proposal to 211 member federations in Thailand calls for “appropriate sanctions, with immediate effect, against Israeli teams,” according to FIFA documents released late Wednesday, one month before the May 17 meeting.

The motion claims “international law violations committed by the Israeli occupation in Palestine, particularly in Gaza” and cites FIFA statutory commitments on human rights and against discrimination.

“All the football infrastructure in Gaza has been either destroyed or seriously damaged, including the historic stadium of Al-Yarmuk,” the Palestine FA wrote, claiming support for the congress motion from the federations of Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Yemen.

The war in Gaza began with the October 7 Hamas terror assault in southern Israel, in which some 1,200 people were massacred and 253 were seized as hostages.

In response, Israel vowed to eradicate Hamas and launched a ground and air offensive with the aim of destroying the terror group and rescuing the hostages, of whom 129 still remain in captivity.

The Hamas-run health minister has said that some 33,900 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war, although these figures cannot be verified and do not differentiate between civilians and combatants.

Israel says it has killed some 13,000 Hamas gunmen in battle, as well as some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7. Two hundred and sixty IDF soldiers have been killed since Israel launched the ground offensive.

Fans hold a giant Palestinian flag during a qualifying soccer match against Australia of the FIFA World Cup 2026 at Jaber Al -Ahmad stadium in Kuwait, Tuesday, November 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Jaber Abdulkhaleg)

The latest call to punish Israeli soccer will not be supported by FIFA and is unlikely to make progress as Israel can expect global backing, including from the 55-member European soccer body UEFA it joined 30 years ago. A cooperation deal also was signed last week between Israeli officials and the South American soccer body CONMEBOL.

Palestinian soccer cited the example of Russian teams being banned from international competitions by FIFA and UEFA during the military invasion of Ukraine that started in February 2022.

Russia’s exclusion was supported by FIFA because several UEFA members refused to play games against Russian opponents. They included all three men’s national teams – Poland, Sweden, and Czech Republic – who were in a qualifying playoffs bracket in March 2022 for the men’s World Cup that year. Russia did not play and Poland advanced to the tournament in Qatar.

Russian officials continue to take part in international soccer meetings, including the executive committee of UEFA, and should have a delegation with FIFA in Bangkok next month.

Israeli national and club teams have continued to play in UEFA competitions since October 7, though home games were played in Hungary and Cyprus for security reasons.

At the Paris Olympics opening in July, Israel will play in the men’s soccer tournament and took part in the tournament draw last month. Israel was drawn in a group to play Muslim-majority Mali, Paraguay and an Asian team yet to be decided.

The Palestine FA said in its proposal to FIFA: “There is a good chance that some football associations will refuse to play against Israel.”

Last year, Indonesia was stripped by FIFA of hosting the men’s Under-20 World Cup because it refused to host games for Israel which qualified several months earlier. The tournament moved to Argentina and Israel reached the semifinals. Within weeks, FIFA compensated Indonesia with hosting rights for the men’s Under-17 World Cup played late last year.

The soccer dispute between the Palestinians and Israelis was put on the FIFA agenda repeatedly in 2013-17, including at congresses, without making significant progress.

Palestinian soccer leader Jibril Rajoub urged FIFA at the congress in 2015 and 2017 to sanction Israel for incorporating into its national leagues teams that played games in the West Bank.

The latest proposal again cites Israel’s “violation of the FIFA Statutes manifest in its continued inclusion of football teams located on the territory of another association (Palestine) in its national league.”

FIFA under President Gianni Infantino and his predecessor Sepp Blatter has not held Israeli soccer responsible for actions by the national government, including security policy that has limited travel for Palestinian players.

A similar call for FIFA to take action against Israel was put forward by Iran’s soccer federation in February. It demanded that FIFA “completely suspend” the Israeli federation “from all activities related to football.”

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