Israel and Palestine: Is the government interfering with football?

During this week’s Fifa Congress, the world’s football associations will vote on whether to suspend Israel from Fifa. Laura Jones looks at whether this is likely to happen.

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Imagine if the Scots had gained independence and it began to affect the relationship between the football associations. What if the Scots believed that the English FA were having an influence on which players could travel across the border and were restricting access to necessary football supplies in order to stop Scottish teams playing the game professionally?

It’s an absurdist scenario. It’s been a good few hundred years since England and Scotland have been at war with each other but this is the current situation between the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) and the Israeli Football Association (IFA).

The PFA have tabled a motion at this week’s annual Congress, to have the IFA suspended from Fifa on the grounds that the Israelis are restricting the movement of footballers between the Palestinian Gaza Strip and the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The PFA also believes it has evidence to prove that Israel are impounding football supplies and restricting visiting foreign teams from travelling into Palestinian areas.

The PFA’s further complaints are that Arab players are being stopped from playing for Israeli domestic clubs and that some of these clubs should be banned from playing on occupied land.

The Palestinians believe that the IFA are part of an “apartheid, racist government” that is deliberately attempting to damage the PFA. So do they have a case?

In terms of restricting movement of players and travelling teams, the IFA says they have no influence over the government’s security forces and therefore, are not themselves responsible for the ills that the PFA feel.

The PFA state the recent case of national footballer Sameh Maraabah, who was detained for questioning on his way to Tunisia for an international game. The Israeli security services say he was detained because he was imprisoned last year for transferring money and information between Hamas operatives and therefore wanted to determine his motive for travelling.

Fifa prohibits any government involvement in football. Its statue states that “each member shall manage its affair independently and with no influence from third parties”.

The PFA need to prove that the Israeli government is deliberately interfering with footballing affairs. This is going to be hard for them to establish as Israel will make the case that this was a matter of their national security and not an act to interfere with the Fifa statute. The claim could be made that this is how all national security threats are dealt with and not just Palestinian footballers. I suspect the same argument will be made regarding the impounding of equipment to check for weapons that could be used against the state.

It feels unlikely that the IFA will be suspended from Fifa. Sepp Blatter himself has said that as long as the IFA are fulfilling their “statutory duties” they will remain in Fifa.

The PFA may not get their wish to remove the IFA from Fifa but the awareness has been raised about the situation. But this, like the conflict, seems doomed not to be resolved.

Read more from Laura Jones here!

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