ZURICH: Sports pressure on Israel over freedom of movement of athletes in and out of Palestine could reach crisis point if FIFA awards its 2017  congress to the West Bank writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

Palestine is one of 10 nations to have expressed interest in hosting the world game’s annual meeting, as federation president Najib Rajoub had started during this year’s congress in Mauritius in May.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter, at congress’s request, recently visited Palestine and Israel and held high-levels talks with political and sport leaders about the freedom of movement issue.


Palestinian athletes struggle to obtain permits to travel regularly in and out of the state as well as to and from Gaza. Similar difficulties face visiting sports delegations and leaders from some Arab and North African countries.

Blatter, both recently and in 2011, and Olympic president Jacques Rogge, in 2010, have sought a resolution of the issue without success. Israeli sports directors and some politicians have expressed sympathy but the power of decision rests not with them but with the security service – which has shown no sign of relaxing its attitude.

This is why Palestine’s 2017 FIFA Congress application carries immense significance. The executive committee makes its choice in December this year and heavy pressure is inevitable from within the Asian confederation for FIFA to pick Palestine and thus put Israel ‘on the spot’.

UEFA tournament 

The Israeli government would be expected to guarantee freedom of attendance to delegations from all FIFA’s 200-plus membership. Any refusal could then place in jeopardy Israel’s place within the international football family.

Pro-Palestinian sympathisers complained long and loud about the staging in Israel last month on UEFA’s European Under-21 Championship finals.

Confirmation of Palestine’s interest came in a statement from FIFA concerning possible hosts for its congress in both 2016 and 2017 (2014 is in Sao Paulo with 2015 in  Zurich).

FIFA said it welcomed “the high level of interest.”

It added: “The 209 member associations were invited to submit a declaration of interest by the end of June 2013 and the procedure has been very successful, with a long list of candidates to host the most important gathering of international football’s governing body.

Decision day

“For the Congress 2016, the following associations have expressed interest: Costa Rica, Canada, Greece, Jamaica, Jordan, Korea Republic, Malaysia, Mexico, Panama, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan.

“For the Congress 2017, Costa Rica, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Malaysia, Palestine, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and United Arab Emirates have expressed interest.

“The candidates will now have to present a formal bid, with the final decision on the hosts currently scheduled to take place at the FIFA Executive Committee meeting in December 2013.”