In a footnote to his own empire-building activities, FIFA President Gianni Infantino chose to appear yesterday at the US-sponsored “Peace and Prosperity” investment conference – the Trump administration’s ill-received exercise in waving dollars at the Israel/Palestine conflict – despite the total boycott of the conference by Palestinians and a personal appeal by PFA President Jibril Rajoub that he should not attend.
Below, Inside World Football‘s Paul Nicholson passes judgement on Infantino’s performance at the event – his post first appeared at http://www.insideworldfootball.com/2019/06/27/infantinos-hollow-words-palestine-forget-cynical-football-oppression-country/.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s participation in the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ workshop in Bahrain have raised plenty of eyebrows in the Middle East with his own personal history being that of aggressor rather than peacemaker.
Infantino’s actions in 2017 at the FIFA Congress in Manama ended FIFA’s attempts to find a solution to the dispute between Palestine and Israel – a dispute that in essence is very simply over the free movement of players, officials and equipment within the territory to allow the participation in football.
Infantino even ordered the microphone at the 2017 Congress to be removed from the Palestine lawyer, saying that they (Congress) had heard enough on the issue. The lawyer was making a constitutional point, but as in most things constitutional that do not fit his personal agenda, he has shown a brazen propensity to ride roughshod over the rules, and manipulate the rule of law.
The FIFA Council the previous day in Manama had disbanded its working group on Palestine/Israel with Infantino saying that FIFA could not solve political issues, yet here he was, two years later, with his new found US political buddies at a conference led by US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, promising football pitches and saying that FIFA will do is part in a territory it had pretty much washed its hands of.
It was a stunning piece of political duplicity from the FIFA president who has shown zero support for the Palestinian football.
Joining a panel led by Thomas Barrack, an Arab-American real estate investor and Trump supporter, he said: “Let’s give, to be very concrete as well, some hope, some dreams.”
“We will do our part at FIFA,” he said. “Let’s do something tangible and concrete that people can see, and when kids play football, first they smile and, secondly, they don’t do other things.”
Infantino said the Palestinian territories had fewer than 25 proper football pitches for a population of five million people. It was another bizarre and Fellini-like moment from the FIFA president whose grasp of reality is akin to the media soundbite of the ‘mixed zone’ press scrum rather than serious debate and problem solving.
A more constructive approach by world football’s leader would have been to outline the real and daily issues facing the federation in their struggle to get players and teams moving freely, as well as to get equipment and expertise into Palestine to build the pitches (the initiative is not new, nor is the struggle). Equipment to build two new pitches has been impounded by Israeli authorities for more than a year. Engineers who frequently work in the Palestine territory have had visas denied when it comes to working on the football projects. Some equipment has been held by the Israelis for longer or has simply just gone missing. Throwing money at the problem, Infantino’s default response to pretty much anything, will have no effect on whether football is played or not.
Infantino’s ridiculous political grandstanding in the name of football will have won him no respect in the Arab world, whatever side of the Palestine fence you sit on.
Jibril Rajoub, president of the Palestinian Football Association, wrote to Infantino on Tuesday urging him not to attend the Manama conference.
“I beseech you to reconsider your decision, for the sake of millions of Palestinians who trust you and respect the organisation of which you are deservedly President,” said the letter, seen by AFP.
“How can the President of the highest governing body of football, and the most outspoken person on the importance of separating politics from sports, agree to participate in a political workshop whose objective is to determine the future of Palestine in the absence of Palestinians?” Rajoub wrote.
Infantino’s response would likely be along the lines of: ‘Football in Palestine? What’s that got to do with Paelstine?’