ENITAN OBADINA / AIPS in DUBAI: A man on a mission, Jibril Rajoub is banking on the power of sport as his lever to set Palestinian sports men and women free from political wrangling between his country and Israel. Rajoub doubles as Palestinian Football Association chairman and National Olympic Committee president.
He is angry that Israel’s security forces, which control movement between Gaza, Israel and the West Bank, frequently prevent athletes and sporting equipment from moving freely between the territories. He intends to use the responsibilities enshrined in FIFA statutes and the Olympic Charter to gain Palestine’s sporting freedom.
In terms of permits for individuals, Rajoub said: “The rule is No, the exception is Yes.”
To illustrate this he added: “Once [UEFA president] Michel Platini came to visit us and then he sent us equipment which was kept at the airport for 15 months. Then, when the Israelis decided to release the equipment we had to pay 32,000 dollars for equipment whose value was 8,000 euro.”
There are at least two leading players among the 5,000 Palestinian political prisoners currently held in Israeli jails: Mohammad Sa’di Nimer of al-Khader Sports Club in Bethlehem and Olympic team goalkeeper Omar Khalid Abu Rweis.
Despite all these impediments to the development of sports in the country, Rajoub is emphatic that the people of Palestine have not given up on the hope of participating, unfettered, at national and international levels.
He said: “People have become more determined to play. No one has wanted to give up on the country. I think people have become more and more motivated.”
Various efforts at ending the sports crises have ended in defeat so Rajoub insisted that, if the FIFA task force set up to find a solution goes the same way, he will demand sanctions against the Israel Football Association at next June’s FIFA Congress in Brazil.
Rajoub said: “I went to this year’s Congress in Mauritius and there was almost a consensus that FIFA should intervene. I made a very simple and clear statement . . . The only thing I am looking for is the free movement of athletes and the terms of reference should be the FIFA statutes and the Olympic Charter.
“I hope the Israelis will understand that they have no right not to respect the machinery FIFA has set up. Otherwise, we will ask for sanctions against Israel; we will ask for the suspension of the Israeli federation. We will go for a vote and we will not accept any compromise.”
* AIPSMedia.com, the international sports journalists association, is running a Young Reporters course in UAE with the support of the local organising committee and FIFA
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