FIFA urged to stop games on 'stolen land'

Human Rights Watch urges governing body of international soccer to quit sponsoring Israeli matches in Judea and Samaria.

Ben Ariel ,


Human Rights Watch is calling on FIFA, the governing body of international soccer, to quit sponsoring Israeli matches in Judea and Samaria, claiming they are being held on “stolen land”, JTA reported on Monday.

“By holding games on stolen land, FIFA is tarnishing the beautiful game of football,” charged Sari Bashi, who is in charge of Israel and ‘Palestine’ affairs for Human Rights Watch.

“FIFA should step up now to give settlement clubs a red card and insist the Israel Football Association play by the rules,” she added.

Human Rights Watch said it had conducted an investigation of the Israel Football Association, a FIFA member, and found that the group holds games in communities in Judea and Samaria "on land unlawfully taken from Palestinians."

Also, the Palestinian Football Association has accused its Israeli counterpart of violating FIFA rules by holding games without permission on the territory of another member group. A FIFA committee is set to submit recommendations on the issue by October 13, according to the statement.

The call from Human Rights Watch comes weeks after a group of members of the European Parliament called on FIFA to act to prevent Israeli clubs based in Judea and Samaria from participating in officially sanctioned play.

66 members of the 751-member European Parliament signed a letter addressed to FIFA President Gianni Infantino urging action on the matter. They cited minor, non-professional outfits located in Maale Adumim, Ariel, Kiryat Arba, Givat Zeev and Bikat Hayarden as breaking FIFA rules.

Human Rights Watch said on Monday that a legal adviser for the Israel Football Association dismissed the relevance of its claims.

"[T]he purpose of the IFA is to benefit football. That is its sole concern. Political issues are not part of our 'playing field,'" Efraim Barak told the group, according to the statement.

FIFA's human rights manager, Andreas Graf, said he did not have time to respond to the investigation before its publication, but told Human Rights Watch that he would "endeavor to reply at a later date," the statement said.

Israel has already been targeted at FIFA several times. Last year, the head of the Palestinian Football Association, Jibril Rajoub campaigned to have Israel suspended from FIFA because, he claimed, Israel was restricting the movement of Palestinian Arab players.

However, he withdrew the bid at the 11th hour, sparking anger among Palestinian Arabs, some of whom demanded Rajoub’s resignation.

Last month, Rajoub demanded that Jewish soccer clubs from Judea and Samaria be expelled from the Israeli league because they are "operating on Palestinian land". A leftist group which backs Rajoub's request said that if these Israeli teams aren't expelled from the Israeli league the entire Israeli league may find itself expelled from FIFA.