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August 15, 2016 2:54 pm

Malaysia Spurns Hosting of 2017 FIFA Soccer Congress Over Israeli Participation

avatar by Lea Speyer

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Malaysia has backed out of hosting the 2017 FIFA Congress because it does not want to associate with Israel. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Malaysia has backed out of hosting the 2017 FIFA Congress because it does not want to associate with Israel. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Malaysia has relinquished its right to host an elite soccer convention next year, because of Israeli participation, AFP reported on Monday.

According to the report, the predominantly Muslim country said it will not host the 2017 FIFA Congress, as doing so would require it to cooperate and associate with the Jewish state, with which it has no official diplomatic relations.

“Some of the conditions of hosting the event include placing the [Israeli] flag on the table during the congress,” Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi was quoted as saying over the weekend. “After comparing the benefits and the risks, it is better for Malaysia to avoid playing host.”

Affandi Hamza, deputy president of the Football (soccer) Association of Malaysia (FAM), told AFP that his group was “advised by the government to withdraw from hosting the congress due to security concerns.” 

FAM, backed by the Malaysian government, was granted the right to host the Congress in December 2013 — something that would have enabled Malaysia to contend for hosting the 2026 World Cup soccer championships.

According to the report, the move comes amid rumors of snap elections in Malaysia — which may come as early as next year — challenging the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, led by Prime Minister Najib Razak, who relies heavily on the Muslim vote to stay in power. According to AFP, “The presence of Israeli officials could stir anger among Muslim voters.”

This is not the first time Israeli-Malaysian politics have spilled over into sports. In 2015, two Israeli windsurfers participating in the Youth Sailing World Championships in Malaysia were forced to miss the competition because Malaysian organizers refused to allow Israeli athletes to compete under their country’s flag or play their national anthem, Hatikvah, in the event of a victory.

The current Summer Olympic Games in Rio also have been marked by political controversy surrounding the Jewish state.

On Friday, as reported by The Algemeiner, an Egyptian Olympic judoka shunned the handshake of his Israeli rival, after losing to him in a first-round match. On August 5, the Lebanese delegation to the games refused to share a bus to the opening ceremony with the Israeli team. On August 7, Saudi Arabian judoka Joud Fahmy forfeited her first-round match against Christianne Legentil from Mauritius, reportedly in order to avoid competing against Israeli contender Gili Cohen in the next round.

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