Just recently at the United States-brokered conference in Bahrain FIFA pledged to build more football pitches in the Palestinian “Territories” to present the economic side of a settlement plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The President of FIFA noted that the Palestinian Territories – made up of the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip – had so far only 25 football fields for a total population of five million inhabitants.
“We, the FIFA, can bring something concrete, that people can see. When children play football, not only do they smile, but they are not busy doing anything else. So, yes, football can play a role, small in appearance but essential in reality,” said Infantino.
Since the affiliation of Palestine with FIFA, Palestinians have not only expected financial, organizational, but also moral support from FIFA.
Palestinian Football Association Jibril Rajoub tried to convince Infantino not to take part in this conference.
“I ask you to reconsider your decision, in the interest of millions of Palestinians who trust you and respect the organization of which you are rightly president,” Rajoub wrote.
“How can the president of the highest governing body of football and someone as outspoken as you on the need to separate politics from sport, agree to participate in a political meeting to determine the future of Palestine in the absence of Palestinians? “Rajoub argued.
This came two years after FIFA had decided to refrain from imposing any sanctions or other measures on the Israel Football Association due to the participation of six settlements clubs in the West Bank in the Isreali league.
It is clear that most of the decisions taken by FIFA recently against the Palestinian Football Federation and its biased attitude toward Israel are the best evidence that this world football’s governing body is subject to the wishes of the Israeli lobby.
In other words, FIFA abandons its principles enshrined in its statutes for the satisfaction of Israel; sacrificing its own values and integrity for political expediency. FIFA as an international body refuses to follow the existing positions of the UN with regard to the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
After the annexation of Crimea by Russia, directly FIFA and EUFA (with Infantino as its then secretary-general) banned the latter from organizing football in Crimea. As Middle East Eye mentioned it did this without demanding internal reports, monitoring committees, or lengthy negotiations between Russia and Ukrainian football association. Indeed, this reflects FIFA’s double standards in applying its principles differently to one group of people than to another.
The international community considers that settlements are illegal under international law and a war crime; that Israel’s construction of settlements constitutes a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
No one can argue that FIFA is devoid of corruption. Of course, this does not concern Israel and the United States, their main concern is not to see FIFA sympathizing with the Palestinians; they are strictly against any decision made by FIFA criticizing or taking actions against Israel or the Israeli Football Association.
Reading between lines, one easily could understand that Gianni Infantino’s biggest concern today is maintaining his post in office as FIFA’s president, therefore, he has to close all windows that could bring him strong wind (such as criticizing or imposing sanctions on IFA); he must give up principled and substantive decisions that may cause him headache, or shake his power.
Of course, Infantino is not a coward, but his big problem is fear. It looks as if he is saying “FIFA doesn’t need any troubles or confrontations with Israel.” He believes that one of the conditions for FIFA’s survival is to comply with Israel; that ‘ethical’ and essential concessions must be made.
These concessions were reflected in FIFA rejection to impose any sanctions against the Israeli FA; in its announcement that the ‘territories’ are a concern for the international public law authorities and FIFA has to remain neutral.
Not to mention it’s submission to the allegation in a report by the discredited Israeli group “Palestinian Media Watch” accusing Palestine Football Association’s president Rajoub of “incitement and “glorification of terrorism” or of “not having condemned” supposed terrorism. FIFA did not reply to an email from Electronic Intifada asking why it took allegations from such an organization seriously, and why it had apparently taken two years for FIFA to launch its investigation.
In 2017, Infantino criticized the United States travel ban on several Muslim-majority nations.
“When it comes to FIFA competitions, any team, including the supporters and officials of that team, who qualify for a World Cup need to have access to the country, otherwise there is no World Cup. That is obvious.”
Ethics is indivisible, a person can’t act ethically in a certain circumstance and misbehaves in another; showing respect to one’s rights while despising and ignoring rights and just demands of others’.
To be neutral on the issue of settlement clubs, FIFA has chosen the side of the occupation. It’s obvious that FIFA and its president are under the influence and threat of the Israeli lobby. It had to take such a decision in order to evade exposing its corruption. FIFA is violating its own laws that stipulate clubs are not allowed to play in another country’s territory without the latter’s permission. It refused to listen to the UN that these settlements are illegal according to UN resolutions.
Infantino’s stance toward the issue of the settlement contradicts what FIFA.com web site reported that
“Gianni led the fight against social ills and threats to the integrity of football in Europe, including all forms of racism and discrimination, violence and hooliganism, and match-fixing.”
Just recently ahead of his re-election, Infantino said he has banished scandals and corruption from the soccer body despite losing members of his council for misconduct. First, there is still doubt that FIFA has become free of corruption. Second, even if this is true, FIFA has lost its credibility by entering into a distinguished relationship with Israel based on political expediency.
Definitely, the issue of Palestine has become an indicator of the credibility of many countries and international organizations. FIFA is not excluded.
Article 3 of the FIFA Statutes states as follows: “FIFA is committed to respecting all internationally recognized human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights.”
Believing that Palestinians deserve to live and practice a normal daily life, in one on his visits to Palestine FIFA’s former president Sepp Blatter said that “Youngsters across the region need to have the opportunity to play football.
It can build bridges, bring young people in the region together, and give them hope.” However, as Daoud Kuttab pointed out that it is clear that the politics of FIFA are moving away from the kind of support that former FIFA president had displayed toward Palestinians.
Unfortunately, the Arabs are hesitant to put pressure on FIFA, their main concern is normalization relations with Israel. They are divided and not united, as James Dorsey puts it, “the division of oil-rich Gulf countries weakens the support for Palestine in FIFA.”
Documents obtained by the writer from the FIFA archive show that there were ‘special’ ties between FIFA and the Zionist-dominated Palestine Football Association (or Federation) PFA (established in 1928, became a member of FIFA in 1929.
Arabs were marginalized from this association, therefore they established the Arab Sports Federation in 1931 and re-established it in 1944, ASF was not a member of FIFA). The common denominator between them was the overarching view of dealing with the Arabs. FIFA was infatuated with the Zionists, it cited them as a model for civilization and modernization. Both had racist views about Palestinians and Arabs.
Because Arab clubs in Palestine were not members in this PFA, they had to ask the latter permission to play matches with their counterparts Arab teams in neighboring countries.
In a letter sent on November 18, 1937 to the FIFA by Khader Kamal, Secretary of the Arab Sports Club in Jerusalem, it was mentioned that:
Recognizing a Jewish team only, prejudice the Arab love of sports and exchanging visits with neighboring countries. If it is not possible to have our Club recognized by your association, we sincerely request that permission be granted to the teams of neighboring countries to play our team without the necessity of taking permission from the Palestine Football Federation.
A letter from FIFA to PFA which reflects the lack of respect toward the Palestinians who struggled against the PFA’s domination and sought to justice and freedom in sports, at the time when FIFA completely ignored (or pretended to ignore) the nature of the political conflict between Arabs and Jews in Palestine, and the impacts of this conflict on the athletic relations:
I [FIFA president] have sent you [PFA president] a copy of my letter to Mr. Khodder Alb. Kamal [Khader Abdallah Kamal] and you will have been understand that I have given no “recommendation” at all to these gentlemen. I think the only possible way is that clubs of Egypt and Lebanon wanting to play against Arab clubs not affiliated to your Association should have asked you the permission to play such matches.
– Issam Khalidi is an independent scholar living in Monterey, California, is the author of History of Sports in Palestine 1900-1948 (in Arabic), One Hundred Years of Football in Palestine (in Arabic and English), co-edited Soccer in the Middle East (Rutledge.), as well as articles and essays on the subject of sports included at www.hpalestinesports.net