The Israel National soccer team could be facing a possible World Cup ban, including other soccer sanctions, unless it alleviates travel restrictions and increases field access for Palestinian players and coaches.
The head of the Palestinian Football Association is pushing for international soccer’s governing body – the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) – to issue a ban on Israel competing internationally, claiming Israel’s restrictive travel for Palestinians is equivalent to a form of oppression.
“It’s not only the athletes,” Jibril Rajoub explains. “You’re talking about instructors, consultants, anyone who wants to come to Palestine. They have to wait hours in line before being allowed through.”
The bind Israel and the Palestinians find itself in stems from last summer, where the Palestinian Soccer Federation held a tournament for its Under-17 (U-17) division in the West Bank and Israeli officials didn’t alleviate travel restrictions for the players and coaches to reach the tournament site.
The next FIFA Congress is scheduled to meet in Brazil in June to decide on the issue. Although actually banishing Israel from future international competition is unlikely, that FIFA President Sepp Blatter has already expressed his displeasure with Israel and threatened possible future sanctions speaks volumes to how far this has already reached.
Israeli Football Association CEO Rotem Kemer explains that Israel is making an effort to meet the Palestinians’ needs, but cautions that politics may have percolated into the matter.
“We’re making our best efforts in order to help make things easier for the Palestinian Soccer Association,” Kemer tells Inside World Football.
Israel acting in a fashion as Kemer describes, due to the FIFA threat, speaks volumes about the power of soccer on the international community.
Israel’s national soccer team, however, is a rarity on today’s international stage, as it maintains near-100-percent Israeli nationals in its roster. Considering how many other nations have players with mixed heritage playing alongside one another, a squad comprised of almost all Israeli citizens is something many are still trying to get used to.
The attempt to push Israel out of FIFA is in line with the stated goals of the BDS movement, which seeks a world-wide boycott of “Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions.”
The BDS supporters have also launched a petition on the issue that has already reached nearly 10,000 signatures. The petition makes a direct comparison between the current situation and that of Apartheid-era South Africa and the Balkan Crisis.
When FIFA formally suspended the membership of the South African Football Association (FA) between 1964 and 1992 and of Yugoslavia from 1990-1994, its action contributed to international pressure to end apartheid and for Yugoslavia to end its brutality towards certain religious groups within its borders.
“Going to this extent,” explains Noah Davis, Deputy Editor at American Soccer Now on the ‘Louis Live’ sports-talk radio program on TLV1, “is similar to a referee showing a red card to a player during a game. Unless it’s absolutely warranted, a referee wants to avoid pulling out a red card and will instead choose a yellow card as a warning that the next time you’re going to be out of the game.”
This isn’t the first time a representative of one country reached out to FIFA for sanctions or a ban on another, rival nation. U.S. Senators Mark Kirk and Dan Coats wrote to FIFA last month that Russia’s international soccer membership should be suspended through 2018 (when it would host the World Cup) due to the country’s anti-gay laws and its military venture into Ukraine’s Crimea Region.
Although FIFA recently issued a statement that its rules and regulations don’t apply to “entities outside the pyramidal structure of the game of football,” it’s widely known that FIFA’s argument against banning Russia isn’t supported by historical facts, in light of its South Africa and Yugoslavia sanctions.
That being said, this isn’t the first time – or likely the last – that FIFA acted in contradictory fashion of its own history. For Team Israel soccer fans, however, they hope FIFA’s response in June is similar to the one it released last week.
“It’s doubtful that a sanction or ban will occur due to travel restrictions for a U-17 tournament,” says Davis. “However, this is something many will keep a close eye on in June.”
Yossi Goldstein is a Producer at WBCB-1490 in Levittown, PA and the host of “Sports Talk With The Sports Rabbi” every Thursday from 8-9pm at www.allnoiseradio.com.