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April 20, 2014 2:01 pm
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Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

avatar by Yossi Goldstein

Kiryat Eliezer Stadium in Haifa, Israel during a soccer match. Photo: wiki commons.

The Israel National soccer team could be facing a World Cup ban, and other soccer sanctions, unless it alleviates travel restrictions and increases field access for Palestinian players and coaches.

The head of the Palestinian Football Association is pushing for international soccer’s governing body, the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA), to issue a ban on Israel competing internationally, claiming Israel’s restrictive travel for Palestinians is equivalent to a form of oppression.

“It’s not only the athletes,” Jibril Rajoub explains. “You’re talking about instructors, consultants, anyone who wants to come to Palestine. They have to wait hours in line before being allowed through.”

The bind Israel and the Palestinians find themselves in stems from last summer, when the Palestinian Soccer Federation held a tournament for its Under-17 (U-17) division in the West Bank and Israeli officials didn’t alleviate travel restrictions for players and coaches from Gaza to reach the tournament site.

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The next FIFA Congress is scheduled to meet in Brazil in June to decide on the issue. Although actually banishing Israel from future international competition is unlikely, that FIFA President Sepp Blatter has already expressed his displeasure with Israel and threatened possible future sanctions speaks volumes to how far the issue has already come.

Israeli Football Association CEO Rotem Kemer explained that Israel is making an effort to meet the Palestinians’ needs, but warned that politics may have seeped into the matter.

“We’re making our best efforts in order to help make things easier for the Palestinian Soccer Association,” Kemer told Inside World Football.

But there may be more at work here than concern for the plight of the Palestinian soccer personnel.

The attempt to push Israel out of FIFA is in line with the stated goals of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which seeks a world-wide boycott of “Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions.”

BDS supporters have also launched a petition on the soccer issue that has already reached nearly 10,000 signatures. The petition makes a direct comparison between the current situation in Israel and that of Apartheid-era South Africa and the Balkan Crisis.

When FIFA formally suspended the membership of the South African Football Association between 1964 and 1992, and of Yugoslavia from 1990-1994, its actions contributed to international pressure to end apartheid and for Yugoslavia to end its brutality towards certain religious groups within its borders.

“Going to this extent,” explained Noah Davis, Deputy Editor at American Soccer Now,”is similar to a referee showing a red card to a player during a game. Unless it’s absolutely warranted, a referee wants to avoid pulling out a red card and will instead choose a yellow card as a warning that the next time you’re going to be out of the game.”

This isn’t the first time that a representative of one country has reached out to FIFA to request sanctions or a ban on another, rival nation. U.S. Senators Mark Kirk and Dan Coats wrote to FIFA last month saying that Russia’s international soccer membership should be suspended through 2018 (when it would host the World Cup) due to the country’s anti-gay laws and its recent military venture into Ukraine’s Crimea region.

Team Israel’s soccer fans hope that FIFA in June rejects the Palestinians’ request.

“It’s doubtful that a sanction or ban will occur due to travel restrictions for a U-17 tournament,” says Davis. “However, this is something many will keep a close eye on in June.”

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