Oren Kessler
Author, “Palestine 1936”

The FIFA farce and the Palestinians

The scandal-ridden soccer organizations passed a resolution that politicizes sports and appeases incitement

FIFA, the world’s soccer governing body, has fallen on hard times. Last week U.S. authorities filed a sweeping 47-count indictment against 14 FIFA-linked officials over what they called “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted corruption.” Separately, Swiss officials are investigating allegations of fraud in the organization’s choice of human-rights abusers Russia and Qatar as World Cup hosts. Now, in one of his last acts before his ignominious resignation, FIFA chief Sepp Blatter has passed an amended Palestinian resolution calling for a committee to investigate Israeli restrictions on Palestinian players’ movement and alleged racism in Israeli soccer, as well as the status of a handful of lower-tier and youth teams representing West Bank settlements. The move is merely the latest chapter in a decades-long farce of incompetence at the governing body of the world’s most popular sport.

The resolution, passed at the annual FIFA Congress in Zurich, appears reasonable on its face. Freedom of movement is a noble principle, racism an ignoble one, and West Bank settlements as contentious an issue as any. But Blatter’s resolution (an amended version of the Palestinians’ demand for Israel’s outright expulsion from the organization) came after Israel had already offered a four-point package of concessions in the days prior. That plan included granting Palestinian players and coaches special identification cards to travel between the West Bank and Gaza, offering aid and approval for constructing soccer stadiums and fields, applying tax exemptions for sports supplies passing through Israel and creating a trilateral Israeli-Palestinian-FIFA commission to deal with further problems as they arise.

Instead, Palestinian soccer chief Jibril Rajoub rejected the package unless Israel meet the unrealistic demand of ousting the West Bank clubs from the Israeli league, and form a committee to address racism in Israeli soccer.

“One association member demands that another association member is suspended,” Blatter said Friday, justifying the resolution. “On this point we must find a solution that will finally satisfy the two associations, but especially the Palestinians. Then we can say that we acted to extend the hand of peace.”

It’s an extraordinary statement. The first sentence and a half imply that two points of view, no matter their content, are to be treated as equal and a solution found in between. But Blatter goes further, and says that the solution must — by necessity and in the interest of peace — be tilted towards the Palestinians.

Aside from the politicization of an avowedly apolitical organization, and the reflexive European indulgence of each and every Palestinian gripe, the kicker in Blatter’s statement is the notion that appeasing Rajoub is tantamount to promoting peace.

In recent television appearances the Palestinian soccer chief “saluted” the kidnappers and captors of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, declared “all of Palestine – from the river to the sea” to be occupied, vowed that the “weapon of resistance is sacred” and that he would use nuclear bombs on Israel if only he had the chance. “Anyone who joins any joint activity with the Israelis, I’ll take him off the [soccer] association’s list,” he has bragged, adding, “ There will never be normalization in sports.”

Rajoub, who also heads the Palestinian Olympic Committee, has dismissed a grassroots proposal to mark a moment of silence for Israeli athletes murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympics as “racism.” It’s a particularly rich allegation, given that Rajoub has vowed to transport Palestinian players from the West Bank to Gaza by helicopter so they can skip Israel and see “no Jews, no Satans and no Zionist sons of bitches.

The latest nonsensical resolution is only the latest display of FIFA’s incompetence. An organization long known as a byword for corruption has now drawn two new penalties: the politicization of sports and appeasement of incitement.

About the Author
Oren Kessler is author of “Palestine 1936: The Great Revolt and the Roots of the Middle East Conflict,” one of the Wall Street Journal’s 10 Best Books of 2023
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