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21st Apr 2019

MEPs urge ban on Israeli settler football teams

  • Boys play football in Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank (Photo: yrl)

International football authority Fifa should exclude Israeli teams that come from occupied Palestinian land, according to an MEPs’ petition.

The 66 euro-deputies said in a letter addressed to Fifa head Gianni Infantino on Friday (9 September) that he should stop “at least five Israeli football clubs in West Bank settlements” from playing in the Israeli league.

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The five teams are from Israeli settlements in Maale Adumim, Ariel, Kiryat Arba, Givat Zeev, and Bikat Hayarden.

They said the status quo “clearly violates” Fifa rules and goes against its own precedents.

Under the rules, teams from one Fifa member, in this case, the Israel Football Association, cannot play on the territory of another member, the Palestine Football Association, which joined Fifa in 1998, without the consent of the Palestinian Authority.

The MEPs noted that Uefa, the European football body governed by Fifa, in 2014 excluded football teams based in Crimea from playing in the Russian league after Russia annexed the territory from Ukraine.

“We … do not want politics to get in the way of the sport,” the MEPs said. “To that end, Fifa must not let football be an instrument of territorial expansion.”

“Football must be played by the agreed-upon rules, also in the Middle East”, they added.

The letter was the initiative of a Scottish Green MEP, Alyn Smith, and comes ahead of a Fifa meeting on 13 October in Zurich.

Most of the signatories were Green, far-left, centre-left, and liberal deputies, but it was also signed by two MEPs from the centre-right EPP group, the largest in the EU assembly, who play a leading role in EP sports policy - Bogdan Wenta and Santiago Fisas.

The Israeli mission to the EU did not reply to EUobserver's request for a comment.

An official from the Israeli Football Association told the Reuters news agency that Fifa had not yet decided whether to discuss the issue in Zurich.

The Palestinian Football Association, last year, called on Fifa to suspend all Israeli teams on grounds that Israel discriminates against Palestinian players under its occupation, for instance, by imposing travel restrictions.

But the Palestinians later dropped the initiative.

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