In advance of this Friday’s FIFA Council meeting, Red Card Israeli Racism (RCIR) has protested a number of instances of continuing Israeli repression of Palestinian football.
The campaigning group has written to FIFA’s ruling body regarding an attempt by Israel’s security services to recruit Palestinian footballers as informers, as well as regarding the continuing obstruction of footballers’ travel and of the import of vital sports equipment into Palestine.
The claims centre around the occasion of the annual Palestine Cup Final, in which the top Gaza and West Bank teams play each other over two legs. After many years during which Israel banned this event outright, the Cup Final resumed in 2015 but has been marked by repeated disruption by Israel of the teams’ travel in and out of Gaza.
This summer 10 squad members of Gazan champions Shabab Rafah were denied permission to travel for the second leg of the Cup Final, after perennial West Bank champions Ahli Al-Khalil had been forced to travel to Gaza with a similarly threadbare squad. And RCIR says it has been told by a source that Israel’s security services attempted to recruit more than one player as an informer during travel between Gaza and the West Bank.
In a separate incident Israel has impounded a shipment of Limonta Sport artificial turf since March, putting at risk the construction of a number of artificial pitches in Palestine.
“FIFA has negotiated paper improvements to the right of movement of players and equipment,” comments RCIR Coordinator Geoff Lee. “But the reality is that Israel still obstructs Palestinian football as it does every aspect of Palestinian life in the Occupied Territories. Even the Palestine Cup Final – the highlight of the footballing calendar – is regularly impeded by the occupier, and the attempt to recruit informers is a disgraceful abuse of power. At the same time Israel blocks the development of sports facilities at every turn.”
The latest revelations by RCIR come as the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) waits to hear the result of its appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) over the irregular chairing of 11th May’s FIFA Congress. At the Congress, FIFA President Gianni Infantino refused to allow a vote on a Palestinian motion calling for the imposition of sanctions on the Israel Football Association (IFA). The motion referenced Israeli abuses including the participation of clubs based in illegal Israeli settlements within the IFA’s leagues and competitions – a practice which has been widely condemned as a breach of both international law and FIFA’s own Statutes.
The CAS is expected to rule on the case on 26th January. Should it find in the PFA’s favour, FIFA may be forced to call an Extraordinary Congress so as to hold a vote on the contested motion.
“President Infantino – with the backing of FIFA Council – has tried to tie up the issue of Israel’s illegal settlement clubs in endless discussions,” says Lee. “To do so he has ridden roughshod over the PFA’s rights as a FIFA member. We are confident that the CAS will uphold those rights, and that the IFA will eventually face international sanctions for its collusion in the war on Palestinian sport.”