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Will Israel be banned from football?

May 17, 2024

At the FIFA congress in Bangkok, the awarding of the 2027 Women's World Cup to Brazil was overshadowed by calls to ban Israel from world football.

Jibril Rajoub at the FIFA Congress in Bangkok
Palestinian Football Association President Jibril Rajoub makes his speech at the FIFA CongressImage: Sakchai Lalit/AP/picture alliance

What happened?

At the FIFA Congress in Bangkok, the president of the Palestinian Football Association (PFA), Jibril Rajoub, asked football's world governing body to suspend Israel and ban Israeli teams from FIFA events. Rajoub, who stated in March that he would bring the matter to the Congress' attention, said Israel had violated multiple FIFA statutes, including over the Gaza conflict and the inclusion in Israeli leagues of teams located in Palestinian territory.

"FIFA cannot afford to remain indifferent to these violations or the ongoing genocide in Palestine," he said. "I ask you to stand on the right side of history... If not now, when?"

Rajoub had hoped there would be an immediate vote on a possible ban, which has the support of the Asian Football Confederation, of which it is a member.

What was this in reference to?

The PFA has voiced its unhappiness with some specific incidents, including a case in which Israeli media footage showed scores of stripped Palestinians, including children, detained in Gaza City's Yarmouk Stadium in December 2023.

In March, the PFA also called on FIFA to look at "the inclusion of football teams located in the territory of another association, namely Palestine, in its national association."

At least five football clubs based in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are members of the Israeli Football Association (IFA). Under international law, the settlements are illegal.

Since Hamas' terror attack on October 7 that Israel said killed more than 1,200 people, the offensive in Gaza has left more than 35,000 Palestinians dead, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry.

What was the response?

The representative of Jordan at the Congress stood up to support Rajoub and called for an immediate vote on the issue.

The chairman of Israel's football association, Moshe Zuares, said no rules had been broken and the proposal had nothing to do with football.

"Once again, we are facing a cynical political and hostile attempt by the PFA to harm Israel," he said. "The IFA never violated a rule set by FIFA or UEFA and will never do so in the future."

"I am holding myself back ...in the hope things can be better for the game for those who play in Israel, the Palestinian authority and or those who play all over the world."

When Zuares began talking, the Iranian and Iraqi delegates walked out.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino rejected the calls for an immediate vote, saying a legal assessment of the allegations would be undertaken when the FIFA Council convened in late July.

Following its 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian teams were banned from international competition and UEFA banned Russian clubs from taking part in European club competitions.

Have we seen this before?

Yes, in 2015, ahead of the FIFA Congress in Zurich there was a similar call to ban Israel from world football.

Two protesters interrupted then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter's opening address by waving red cards and chanting "Israel out!"

Rajoub wanted FIFA to expel Israel over its restrictions on the movement of Palestinian players, as well as over five clubs that are based in the occupied territories (in the West Bank) but play in Israel's leagues.

Israel said the restrictions were in place because of security concerns and the country’s football association argued that it had no control over security forces.

In the end, Rajoub, reportedly under heavy pressure to do so, withdrew the call to suspend Israel. He then shook hands with then-IFA President Ofer Eini in a landmark moment.

"I decided to drop the suspension but it does not mean that I give up the resistance," Rajoub said.

Jibril Rajoub and Ofer Eini shake hands at the FIFA Congress in 2015
The famous handshake between Jibril Rajoub and Ofer EiniImage: Walter Bieri/KEYSTONE/EPA/dpa/picture alliance

Have other sporting organizations responded differently?

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has ruled out any sanctions on Israel ahead of or during the Olympics in Paris this summer.

"It’s out of question to imagine sanctions (on Israel) right now," Pierre-Olivier Beckers-Vieujant, the head of the IOC co-ordination committee for Paris 2024, said in March.

IOC Vice-President John Coates said the war in Gaza did not warrant the same sanctions for Israel as those imposed on Russia after it invaded Ukraine, due to differences between the two conflicts. Many Russian athletes are expected to compete at the Games under a neutral flag.

jh/mp (Reuters, AFP)