KEIR RADNEDGE in PORT LOUIS: FIFA president Sepp Blatter has promised Palestine that he will bring the full weight of world football to bear on the long-running problems with Israeli security restrictions on sport.
Blatter was addressing a conference of the Asian Football Confederation here in Mauritius ahead of FIFA Congress on Thursday and Friday.
A “request by the Palestinian Football Association to discuss the situation of football in Palestine” is on the congress agenda for open debate.
The Palestinians have complained incessantly for years that the Israeli security authorities impede their own athletes from travelling between Gaza and the West Bank, block some visiting teams from entry and hold up and impound sports equipment from foreign federations and confederations.
Palestinian resentment has been exacerbated by UEFA’s decision to host its European under-21 finals next month.
In the autumn of 2010 Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, visited Palestine and initiated talks between the National Olympic Committees of the two countries.
Rogge hoped to bring pressure to bear on the Israeli authorities as did FIFA president Blatter when he visited both states in the spring of 2011.
All their good intentions have gone to waste, however, according to the Palestinians.
Jibril Rajoub, head of both their Olympic and football federations, said here today that the situation on the ground had grown even more restrictive since the visits of Rogge and Blatter.
He added: “It’s crazy what the Israelis are doing. They should be asked either to respect and accept the statutes or pay the price. I am talking about free access and free movement for both athletes and sports instructors and experts from abroad.
“We just want to enjoy sport like the rest of the associations.”
Asked about whether the IOC and FIFA intervention had helped, he said: “No. The situation is deteriorating. They have to recognise reality on the ground and Palestine is a member of both FIFA and IOC and accepts all of the standards and statutes of FIFA.”
He objected to the hosting of the Euro under-21 finals in Israel because “they should not be given this gift as long as they are not giving Palestinians the right to enjoy the same things as them.”
Pro-Palestinian activists staged a protest outside UEFA Congress in London last Friday and several gate-crashed the official dinner.
Blatter, having seen his last attempt to help prove in vain, insisted that FIFA would try again about “this touchy problem.”
He told the AFC delegates, including Rajoub: “I can confirm that I will help, FIFA will help. It’s a problem of football. We will help you and this will be done.
“It’s not a promise it’s a will – and where there is a will there is way.”