FIFA Needs to Act to Kick Out Apartheid

Ahmad Daraghma, 23, was killed by Israeli forces in Nablus. (Photo: via Social Media)

By Jonathan Kuttab

During the World Cup 2022, players and fans in Qatar, and people all over the world took a strong stand for Palestine. Social media was buzzing, and mainstream media from around the world reported about Palestine flags being raised. Israeli media who flooded Qatar to bask in their newfound “acceptance” of normalization with the Arab world were shocked to find that the people of the Arab world did not share that view. In fact, the recent World Cup showed the world at large is not at all reconciled to Israeli apartheid or enamored with the recent Abrahamic Accords.

On December 22, the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) shared that

“While the rest of the World still basks in the festivities of a splendid World Cup 2022-Qatar” that “Palestinian Football was grieved this dawn by the assassination of one of its top footballers, AHMED A’TEF DRAGHAMEH, the 23- Years old scorer of Thakafi Tulkarem who was shot by Israeli soldiers during the Israeli Occupation’s incursion of the City of Nablus.”

Palestine’s ability to make the World Cup over the years has been seriously hampered by the killing and maiming of dozens of players such as Ahmed.

For years, the Palestinian Football Association has complained about Israel’s clear violations of FIFA rules and regulations using legal avenues to call for either sanctions or even the suspension of the Israel Football Association.

FIFA has attempted to avoid controversy, urge quiet diplomacy, and refuse to vote on any sanctions or suspension of Israel. FIFA officials have claimed that “politics and football should not be mixed,” even fining clubs for raising the Palestinian flag at games where Palestine was not playing. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, however, it suddenly became legitimate to express support for political causes and raise the Ukrainian flag at FIFA events, thus exposing the double standard.

Palestinians and their supporters have responded with grassroots campaigns in an attempt to hold Israel accountable for its apartheid practices, with campaigns like  “Red Card Israel” or more recently the campaign “Kick Out Apartheid” which includes close to 100 organizations worldwide calling for sanctions on Israel because of its policies.

Israel has violated the principles of FIFA in a variety of ways that would normally warrant disciplinary actions and even a suspension of its membership. These include, that

  • the IFA (Israel Football Association) allows players and even five clubs from the illegal Israeli settlements (legally under the jurisdiction of Palestine), to play in their national league without first obtaining permission from the PFA. This is a straightforward violation of FIFA regulations that must be addressed.
  • Israel, by means of its military administration and control of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, has taken a number of measures that harm the sport of football, including international travel restrictions on Palestinian players and coaches: restricting the movement of football players between Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem; Refusal to allow the building of stadiums and facilities in Area C of the West Bank, the only viable location for such facilities; excessive delays or failing to release Palestinian sports equipment from Israeli customs, as Israel controls all borders; and administrative arrests of footballers and attacks upon, including the tear-gassing of, sports events.
  • FIFA has allowed a prevalence of blatantly racist sloganeering (“Death to Arabs”) and anti-Arab violence associated with IFA games. This runs counter to FIFA’s stated goal of confronting racism.

However, the politics of FIFA have prevented the organization in the past from taking such action. Its internal by-laws have even been amended to make it more difficult for the Palestine Football Association (PFA) to demand such action. Consequently, it is the responsibility of civil society to continue to apply the popular pressure necessary to bring this about. It is time to keep up the momentum saw during the World Cup going.

Israel may wield great influence with some Arab regimes and FIFA officials, but the people of the Arab world and the world at large are fully aware of the apartheid, racism, and oppression which Israel represents and ready to normalize relations.

As the Palestinian Football Association said in its press release following Ahmed Draghameh’s death, we

demand the international football organizations to take a closer look into the racist policies and practices of the Israeli occupation and its constant violations of international sport regulations, and hold it responsible for depriving Palestinian footballers of their enshrined right to develop and practice Sport.

As we grieve the loss of Ahmed and share our condolences with his family, his club, and his teammates, let us keep the momentum moving forward to Kick Out Apartheid.

BDS actions and displays of solidarity in the arena of international sports, as happened in South Africa, may prove to be the most effective method of proclaiming the message that the world will not support apartheid or racism. For it was the world’s boycott against South African sports teams that had the most effect on exposing the crimes of and collapsing support for its apartheid regime.

Now that the World Cup is over, it is time for FIFA to hold the IPA accountable.

 You can send a letter to FIFA here.

- Jonathan Kuttab is a co-founder of the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq, and currently is the executive director of Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA) and serves on the board of Just Peace Advocates. A well-known international human rights attorney, he practices law in the US, Palestine and Israel. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.
(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
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