Israel faces calls for football ban from nations in the Middle East – but urges FIFA ‘not to involve politics’

A group of the Middle East’s football associations has asked world football chiefs to ban Israel over the war on Hamas in Gaza, according to a letter seen by Sky News.

But the Israeli Football Association has urged FIFA to keep politics out of sport and allow them to continue trying to qualify for the men’s European Championship this summer.

UEFA general secretary, Theodore Theodoridis, said today that the European governing body’s administration has had “no such discussion or such intention” to exclude Israeli teams. But a decision would more likely be taken by the executive committee of elected officials.

The bid to banish Israel’s footballers is led by Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, half-brother of Jordan’s King Abdullah II, in his role as president of the West Asian Football Federation.

That 12-nation grouping also includes the FAs of Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The letter was sent to all 211 national football federations and the six regional confederations, including UEFA, of which Israel is a member and is today holding its annual congress in Paris.

Jordanian FA president Prince Ali wrote: “We, the West Asian Football Federations, encompassing all its members, call upon FIFA, the Football Confederations, and Member Associations to join us in taking a decisive stand against the atrocities committed in Palestine and the war crimes in Gaza, by condemning the killing of innocent civilians including players, coaches, referees, and officials, the destruction of the football infrastructure, and taking a united front in isolating the Israeli Football Association from all football-related activities until these acts of aggression cease.”

The Israeli FA called on football authorities to reject the bid to ban them but held out an olive branch for peace by wishing Jordan good luck in its first-ever appearance at the Asian Cup final on Saturday against Qatar.

“I am trusting FIFA not to involve politics in football,” Israeli FA CEO Niv Goldstein told Sky News.

“We are against involving politicians in football and being involved in political matters in the sport in general.

“So, we are concentrating only on football matters and our dream is to qualify for the European Championship in 2024 and I’m looking forward to world peace.”

Pic: Reuters

FIFA has banned Russia from international football over the unprovoked, full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 – sparking questions in Jordan about inconsistencies in approaches to nations at war.

“This is not for me to decide,” Mr Goldstein said. “And obviously we think there is a lot of difference between our situation and other situations that happened in the world.”

Israel’s government insists it is acting in self-defence and only began the war on Gaza after Hamas launched raids on its territory on 7 October, killing around 1,200 Israelis and other nationalities.

UEFA believes how the Israel-Hamas war started adds a different complexion to a decision on banning teams.

Mr Theodoridis, who leads the UEFA administration, was asked about calls to exclude Israel given they kicked out Russia.

“There was no such discussion or such intention from the UEFA administration,” he said after the UEFA Congress in Paris. “They are two completely different situations between the two countries. Don’t forget the start of the war, you mentioned Ukraine, and the start of what is happening now, which is regrettable now, in the Middle East.”

Prince Ali’s letter does not mention the 7 October massacres – the deadliest day for Jewish people since the Holocaust – nor the more than 130 people being held hostage in Gaza since being abducted from Israel that day.

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But the letter references the “magnitude of suffering endured by women, children, and innocent civilians, including football players and athletes, as well as the indiscriminate destruction of sports facilities” in Gaza.

Israel insists it is acting proportionally and takes care to avoid innocent deaths. More than 27,000 people have been killed in Gaza so far, according to the Hamas-led health ministry there.

“The humanitarian crisis demands an unequivocal and resolute response from the global football community,” Prince Ali wrote.

“As members bound by the statutes of FIFA, we stand united in our pledge to uphold all internationally recognised human rights.”

Large parts of Gaza have been devastated in the Israeli offensive. Pic: Reuters
Large parts of Gaza have been devastated in the Israeli offensive. Pic: Reuters

Israel began competing in the Asian Football Confederation in 1954 but faced opposition from countries refusing to play them.

They qualified through Asia for the 1970 men’s World Cup but the team was then excluded from AFC tournaments from 1974.

They went on to play in Europe and Oceania for future World Cup qualification campaigns before joining the European governing body, UEFA, as a full member in 1994.

Israeli teams also compete in the Champions League and Europa League.

The national team has never qualified for a European Championship but is two games away from the finals in Germany in June.

In March, there is a play-off semi-final against Iceland and the winner plays Bosnia-Herzegovina or Ukraine.

The build-up to the Eurovision Song Contest in May is also seeing pressure to ban Israel as Russia was kicked out of the competition in 2022.

Russia was banned from Eurovision Song Contest, which Ukraine won in 2022. Pic: AP
Russia was banned from the Eurovision Song Contest, which Ukraine won in 2022. Pic: AP

But the European Broadcast Union has said that was a “fundamentally different” situation and backed Israel to remain in the contest.

The Israeli FA also hopes to fend off the latest attempts to expel its teams. FIFA and UEFA provided no immediate comment to Sky News.

But Jordanian royal Prince Ali wrote to FAs, including the UK home nations: “It is with a sense of profound responsibility and commitment to the principles of human rights, justice, and peace that we implore your engagement in this crucial matter.”

It was only following the Oslo Accords in 1998 that the Palestinian FA was able to join FIFA and it competes as Palestine.

The men’s team reached the round of 16 for the first time at the Asian Cup last month.

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