Israel’s soccer future in Europe under threat
2 October 2010
The UEFA President has taken a tough stance, “Israel must choose between allowing Palestinian sport to continue and prosper or be forced to face the consequences for their behaviour.”
Michel Platini, president of European football’s ruling body, threatened Israel with expulsion from the union if it continues to undermine football in Palestine. His comments this week were prompted by Israel’s refusal to allow six of the Palestinian national team to travel from Gaza to a match with Mauritania in August.
Israeli spokesmen said the players were denied access for “security reasons”, claiming they did not have the correct permit. Protests were held in the West Bank town of Al-Ram and Palestinian Football Federation (PFF) President Djibril Rajoub vowed to take the matter further and “demand the removal of Israel from international sporting organizations.”
Following a conversation with Rajoub, Platini, president of the European Union of Football Associations (Uefa), took a strong stance on Israel’s restrictions. “We accepted them in Europe and furnished them with the conditions for membership and they must respect the letter of the laws and international regulations otherwise there is no justification for them to remain in Europe”, he said. “Israel must choose between allowing Palestinian sport to continue and prosper or be forced to face the consequences for their behaviour.” Platini added that International Football Federation (FIFA) chief Sepp Blatter had struck a similar tone during a private phone conversation.
Palestinian football has been frequently disrupted by policies of the occupation, although informally there are agreements to leave it untouched as a “humanitarian gesture”. The domestic league season is often shut down prematurely; only seven seasons have been completed since 1977 and players are commonly subjected to harassment and violence. Two national team players from Gaza, Ayman Alkurd and Wajeh Moshate, were killed during Operation Cast Lead and the national stadium was destroyed by Israeli bombs.
Despite the problems, the PFF has been flourishing of late. In 2008, the men’s national team played its first match on home soil, and a year later 15,000 watched the women’s team take on Jordan. Both have gone on to enjoy some creditable results and FIFA conferred its development award on Palestine in 2008 “in recognition of the difficult task that it had accomplished in keeping football alive”.
With membership of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), already secured, and European Union (EU) acceptance seeming more likely, Platini’s comments represent a momentum check for Israel. Rejection from European football, which they have participated in since receiving a special invitation in 1994, would be a damaging blow to Israel’s standing in its adopted continent.
The matter will be discussed at a special Uefa meeting in Belarus on October 1.
Read more about football in Palestine.