Down to the Wire, Israel Braces for FIFA Vote

May 29, 2015

3 min read

Working to avoid a vote on whether Israel may remain in the FIFA soccer association, Israeli officials expressed concern they may not succeed. The vote is scheduled for Friday. Meanwhile, the association itself is facing tensions of its own, with a presidential election and corruption scandal.

Palestinians brought the motion to oust Israel from the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, citing travel restrictions placed on their players, as well as the inclusion of teams from Judea and Samaria in the Israeli club. Current FIFA president Sepp Blatter opposes Israel’s removal, but acknowledged the Palestinian complaints as legitimate. He warned a successful vote could set a “dangerous” precedent that could get FIFA involved in other political and diplomatic battles.

Should the Palestinian motion receive over three quarters of the 209 votes at FIFA’s congress in Zurich Friday, Israel would be ineligible to participate in international soccer tournaments. Blatter also faces a vote Friday, as he is running for his fifth term as FIFA president.

To prevent the matter from coming before the congress, Israel has offered a four-point compromise. According to the Times of Israel, this includes granting VIP passes to Palestinian players, allowing them to move more freely between Gaza and the West Bank, as well as Ben Gurion airport for international competition; financial aid and approval for the construction of soccer stadiums in the West Bank; tax exemptions for sporting equipment passing through Israeli ports on the way into the Palestinian clubs; and a trilateral panel, with representatives from Israel, the Palestinian Authority and FIFA, to resolve any future disputes.

The compromise was rejected by the Palestinians because it did not address the issue of Judea and Samaria teams. Since the UN does not recognize areas captured by Israel in 1967 to be part of the Jewish State, teams located in those areas require Palestinian permission to play for the Israeli soccer association.

One Israeli delegate told Haaretz, “There is no chance that Israel will be suspended in the vote, and the only thing the Palestinian can achieve will be to win the support of countries that are in any case anti-Israel. If the Palestinians take this to the end, they’ll lose twice — first in the vote, and second in that they won’t get any of the concessions that Israel and the prime minister have already agreed to give them. They know this, but they’re not thinking rationally. They’re driven by politics.”

Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) president Michel Platini has praised the Israeli compromise proposal, which “satisfies and contributes meaningfully to improving the situation,” he told UEFA-member club leaders in Zurich. “Israel has not violated any [FIFA] regulation, and there is no cause for suspending her. I am convinced FIFA will adopt Israel’s proposal.”

At the same time, the international soccer body faces scandal, with corruption charges being brought up by both the US and Switzerland. 14 people, including at least two Americans, were arrested Wednesday by the US, on charges of  wire fraud, money laundering and racketeering conspiracy. One official arrested, former FIFA Vice President Jack Warner, was also involved in a 2011 bribery scandal. At the time, he blamed “Zionism” for his misfortunes.

A separate Swiss investigation is examining whether decisions to award the upcoming World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar were rigged. Despite the investigation, FIFA has said the tournaments will be held as planned. The selection of Qatar, in particular, has been fraught with controversy, including human rights violations.

According to CTV News, Blatter said he welcomed the investigations, which span his 17-year tenure as president, though he himself has not been named, and hopes they will “reinforce measures that FIFA has already taken to root out any wrongdoing in football.” FIFA is cooperating fully with the investigations, saying it “initiated the process” by filing a legal complaint with the Swiss.


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