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Soccer-Palestine seeking FIFA sanctions against Israel

Source: Reuters - Tue, 13 May 2014 19:41 GMT
Author: Reuters
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(Adds comment from Israeli FA)

By Mike Collett

SWEIMEH, Jordan, May 13 (Reuters) - Palestine will urge delegates at next month's FIFA Congress to take sanctions against Israel while it continues to act "like the neighbourhood bully", FA president Jibril Rajoub told Reuters on Tuesday.

Rajoub, speaking at the Soccerex Asian Forum being held on the shores of the Dead Sea, said the relationship between the two Middle East neighbours had seriously deteriorated following the recent arrest of a Palestine footballer and the shooting of two other players.

He said a Task Force established by FIFA president Sepp Blatter last year that included both nations and representatives from UEFA, Israel's European confederation and the AFC, Palestine's Asian confederation, had failed to implement any real change or improvement on the main issues of freedom of movement and access for Palestinian athletes.

The Israeli FA, which has no say on security matters that are within the purview of security agencies, said it was working "in full cooperation and coordination with FIFA and UEFA to ensure the best possible sporting conditions for Palestinians."

Spokeswoman Michal Grundland said mixing politics and sport was dangerous and the attempt to impose sanctions was "unacceptable and we will work to prevent it."

Rajoub, who is also head of the Palestine Olympic Committee, said: "Since the Mauritius Congress when president Blatter formed the Task Force we tried to change.

"So far the Israelis are not co-operating. I hope Blatter and all those who have good intentions can still solve the problem before the Congress otherwise I am going for sanctions against the Israelis.

"They cannot keep behaving like the neighbourhood bully, violating all the statutes of FIFA and the Olympic charter and rejecting any good intention either from UEFA, FIFA, the AFC, Palestinian FA or any other interested third party," added Rajoub.

World soccer's ruling body FIFA has carried mainly optimistic reports of the Task Force's work on its website over the last year but Rajoub painted a far bleaker view of the situation.

He also gave little hope for improvement between now and the June 9-10 Congress in Sao Paulo that will be held just before the start of the World Cup in Brazil.

The plan was for a Memorandum of Understanding to be signed between the countries before Congress but that now seems inconceivable.

While Rajoub did not specify the sanctions that could be taken against Israel, he explained why he felt they were necessary.

DISASTROUS EVENTS

"There have been two disastrous events. Last week our national team was in Qatar in camp preparing for the Asian Cup and when they came back the Israelis arrested one of the players and now he is in jail with no reason," he said.

"I am sure they will release him in a week or two so why arrest him in the first place?

"The other event was the famous story that they shot and injured two athletes who had to go to Jordan for treatment for three months. Then they came back and arrested them," Rajoub added.

"I don't think that such a policy should pass without sanctions, without being punished.

"Last year at Congress in Mauritius I said I hoped next year I could come with a solution but if there is no solution I will come back for sanctions.

"Now, this is what we are going to do although I am still optimistic that maybe something could happen before Congress," said Rajoub.

"According to my own experience as a Palestinian and also as president of the FA, the Israelis never agree to anything without being pressured.

"I think UEFA president Michel Platini could say either you do this or do that.

"He did that once when the Israelis prevented the Jordanian and Iraqi teams from coming to Palestine and he said either/or. Immediately everything changed and all the teams were allowed in."

Rajoub is also upset the Israelis recently sent a letter to Blatter which said: "We are ready to develop sport in Palestine but this should be done through our channels."

It was the final straw for Rajoub who told Reuters: "That implies we were affiliated to Israel.

"It means they are not recognising the very existence of Palestinian sporting entity. This is the substance of the problem and for us I don't think anything will happen.

"It's what happened in South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s. It means this is an excuse and I think this is enough for us to ask for sanctions," said Rajoub.

Kirsten Nematandani, former president of the South African FA, said he fully backed Palestine's complaint.

"As a country we appreciate what Palestine is experiencing. We went through much the same thing ourselves for decades.

"I just hope, by the time we go to Congress, there will be something that is laid on the table that gives us a better way forward." (Additional reporting by Ori Lewis in Jerusalem, Editing by Tony Jimenez and Toby Davis)

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