KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- Sepp Blatter believes he may have resolved the one issue threatening the disturb the waters of a FIFA Congress at which he is expected to present his readiness to carry on as FIFA president for a further four-year term.
The 78-year-old Swiss has already ‘telegraphed’ such an announcement during the annual conference of the international game in Sao Paulo on June 10 and 11 on the eve of the World Cup’s Opening Match.
Nothing on the agendas of the executive committee or congress present a snag with the exception of the Palestine FA’s long-standing anger at restrictions on freedom of access for athletes and equipment through Israel.
At last year’s Congress in Mauritius PFA president Jibril Rajoub threatened to come to Sao Paulo demanding sanctions against Israel – up to and including suspension – if the situation were not resolved.
Sporting relations between the two states – Palestine in Asia’s AFC and Israel in Europe’s UEFA – are dictated by the overall Middle East crisis which has defied resolution by the world’s politicians for half a century.
However Blatter launched a mediation attempt of his own, supported by UEFA president Michel Platini and Asia’s FIFA vice-president Prince Ali of neighbouring Jordan. Liaison officers between the PFA and IFA were appointed and communications improved but not enough to please the Palestinians.
Earlier this month Rajoub, during a conference on Jordan, was still fulminating about demanding Congress act against Israel (while acknowledging that the Israel FA itself is largely powerless).
In the meantime the FIFA executive committee had encouraged Blatter to pursue progress once more. His latest mission began in Jordan on Monday. After a meeting with the Jordan Football Association and its president, Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein, he crossed into the West Bank for a working lunch in Ramallah with Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas.
Blatter suggested to Abbas that progress on the football front might offer a little assistance in engagement towards the region’s wider problems.
He said: “We shall try to find a solution. Sport is not politics but if we are able to solve this problem [of ours] it could be also a good step to solve other problems in this region.”
At a press conference later he said: “I think, at Congress, we should try to be in the sporting spirit and not in the spirit of punishment . . . Let’s hope that, before we come to the Congress, we will have a situation that will give to Palestinian football and visitors to Palestinian football a good future.”
More high-level meetings
Blatter then travelled on to Israel. Here he met a delegation of the Israel Football Association led by its chairman, Avi Luzon, who then accompanied him at a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In a statement later Blatter, choosing his words with rare care, said: “Following the mandate I’ve received from the Congress and after mechanisms have been put in place to facilitate the movement of football representatives and equipment into, out of and within Palestine, it was important for me to go back to Israel and Palestine, meet the political and football authorities and thus get first-hand information.
“In particular, I had fruitful talks with H.E. Mahmoud Abbas and H.E. Benjamin Netanyahu. While there is still some work to do, there are some results, which we can build on. I’m confident football will help building bridges between people of Palestine and Israel.”
Those ‘bridges’ could form a ‘peace match’ between the two national teams as well as a memorandum of understanding which Blatter has urged both FAs to approve ahead of Congress.
The MoU would be valid for a year initially and Blatter hoped it would be “signed and sealed” before the World Cup began.
That, for FIFA and Blatter, would be progress.
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