JERUSALEM: An Asian youth tournament threatened with cancellation by Israeli security restrictions will go ahead after all writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
The West Asian Football Federation under-16s championship had teetered on the brink after around 50 players and officials from visiting countries were denied entry permits by Israel.
Palestine officials appealed for help from international federations. Europe’s UEFA is understood to have played the leading role in persuading the Israeli authorities to relent.
While the tournament hung in the balance Palestinian sports supremo Jibril Rajoub had complained that Israel should be expelled from world federation FIFA because of its continued obstruction of sports events on the West Bank. As a source close to WAFF said: “What sort of security threat could teams of under-16s pose?”
The West Asian federation has 12 members and is headed by Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan who is also FIFA’s Asian vice-president.
Palestine’s hosting of the tournament was approved last year and applications for the various visas were submitted two months ago.
With the event due to start this weekend anger erupted when the Israelis refused entry permits for a 30-strong delegation of players and officials from Iraq, 10 from Jordan and three from the United Arab Emirates.
Travel restrictions imposed by Israel on officials and players travelling to and from the West Bank is a long-standing problem which has defied attempts at a diplomatic resolution by both IOC leader Jacques Rogge and FIFA president Sepp Blatter only last month.
Prince Ali insisted that the barred delegations wait in the Jordanian capital of Amman as long as necessary. FIFA, the Asian Football Confederation and UEFA were all informed. Palestine is a member of the AFC, Israel of UEFA.
UEFA was certainly owed a goodwill gesture by Israel for the resolute stance president Michel Platini and his officials took earlier this summer over the staging of its under-21 championship there.
WAFF officials learned late last night that the permits would be issued and the tournament is expected to open tomorrow [Sunday] with a match between Palestine and Jordan. The Palestinian Authority is also due to host the WAFF Under-21s championship in the first week of October.
Earlier Rajoub, president of both the Palestinian National Olympic Committee and its football association, had said: “We ask FIFA for a red card [for Israel] because the yellow card has been raised now for a long time. We are clinging to the red card to take away the Israeli occupation’s legitimacy and we will not accept any compromise.”
Blatter visited the West Bank and Israel only last month at the specific request in May of FIFA’s annual congress at which Rajoub had warned that any further permit problems would prompt a proposal next year seeking the expulsion of Israel.