The Palestinian football team was finally forced by the security situation to play its two remaining 2018 World Cup qualifying home games at a neutral venue. The results, one win (6-0 v Malaysia) and one draw (0-0 v Saudi Arabia), weren’t enough to keep Palestine in the competition.
Earlier, FIFA had made a U-turn to allow the home games actually to be played at home in Ramallah and Hebron in response to Palestinian pressure. This was after FIFA’s Platini-lead World Cup committee had first succumbed to Saudi and Malaysian requests to move the games from West Bank venues, probably for political reasons on the part of the Saudis.
The full story is given below from Inside World Football:
- By Andrew Warshaw
- Having been kicked from pillar to post by FIFA, metaphorically speaking, Palestine football authorities have now been told once and for all that they will not be able to play a forthcoming World Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia on home soil.
The Palestinians thought they had won a decisive battle off the field when given permission – seemingly a final decision – to stage the delayed fixture tomorrow, November 5. But having won the battle, they have now lost the war.
The background is as follows. Last month, Palestine’s football association urged Sepp Blatter and Asian Football Association chief Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa to overturn an order to play the vital fixture on neutral ground. The previous June, Palestine, who had originally been slated to play the first group game between the two sides at home, agreed to a request by the Saudis to switch the fixtures round due to “exceptional conditions” and had been eagerly anticipating hosting the return on October 13 in the West Bank after being narrowly beaten 3-2 first time round.
But FIFA’s bureau of the World Cup organising committee, chaired at the time by UEFA president Michel Platini who is now suspended, suddenly mandated the corresponding Group A fixture, which could have a massive bearing over Palestine’s World Cup hopes, to be played instead on neutral territory ground following another unexplained Saudi request.
The bureau’s decision was “final and binding” with no possibility of appeal, infuriating the Palestinians. FIFA subsequently backtracked and temporarily delayed a final decision but the newly installed bureau for World Cup qualifiers met under the chairmanship of Juan Angel Napout and unanimously ruled in favour of Palestine. The bureau, a statement said, “decided that in view of the agreement made between the two teams last June, the match would be rescheduled to take place in Palestine on Thursday, 5 November 2015.”
“The Palestinian Football Association has given full security guarantees for the rescheduled match and FIFA has agreed to appoint a security officer who will work hand in hand with the Palestine authorities to supervise the security plan and make sure that the match is played in very good conditions.”
Yet that wasn’t the end of it and a “final final” u-turn, if you like, has been made by the emergency Bureau, this time chaired by Asian Football Confederation boss Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahima Al Khalifa (Bahrain) who, with deputy chairman Napout (Paraguay) and Michel D’Hooghe (Belgium), ruled that both the fixture against Saudi Arabia and one against Malaysia must be played on neutral ground.
The climax to the saga followed a meeting held in Palestine between FIFA’s security officer and local authorities, after which the Palestinian government itself apparently confirmed that it could no longer guarantee safety and security around the matches in question.
“In view of this, the Emergency Bureau for the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers has confirmed that the security guarantees cannot be compromised and that both matches need to be played on neutral ground,” a FIFA statement said. The Palestine-Saudi Arabia match will now be played on November 9, while the Palestine-Malaysia fixture will go ahead as planned on November 12. FIFA has asked the Palestinian Football Association to provide details on where in Asia they would like to host both matches. In other words, they get to choose though time is tight.
Just as the ruling was being made, Saudi Arabia repeated their refusal to play the disputed qualifier in Ramallah. “The Saudi federation has sent an official letter in which it announced withdrawing from the match against Palestine scheduled for Thursday,” spokesman Adnan al-Moaibed said.
For their part, Malaysia had written to FIFA three times to request the November 12 Group A match be moved to a neutral venue after a month of violence in the Palestinian territories. Yet bizarrely, the Malaysians suddenly appear to have decided it was safe after all just as FIFA said it wasn’t.
“I am confident that they can go to Palestine,” government minister Khairy Jamaluddin told reporters. “I have communicated with the Palestinian ambassador to Malaysia and he has given his assurance of safety for our team in Hebron. I, myself, have received a personal assurance from the Palestinian ambassador and he will personally accompany our team from the border to the stadium. He said the Palestinian government will facilitate our team’s passage through checkpoints controlled by the Israeli regime.”