Fifa Vote To Ban Israel Looms Over Sepp Blatter's Bid For Presidency

Why Fifa's Presidential Election Won't Actually Be The Most Controversial Vote Today

While the contest for Fifa's top role at the football association's annual conference on Friday is gathering all the headlines, it might not actually be the day's most controversial vote.

The election for Fifa's presidency, contended by 17-year incumbent Sepp Blatter, who has come under intense pressure to resign after several of his colleagues were arrested on corruption charges, is almost a foregone conclusion, with the widespread expectation he will easily clinch a fifth-term win.

Instead, a much closer - and more controversial - ballot, item 15 on the FIFA agenda, may overshadow Blatter's bid to hold on to the top spot.

The Palestine Football Association (PFA) is calling for Israel's exclusion from Fifa, claiming their players are prevented from crossing the border between the two nations freely, hampering training and competition.

Blatter has said he does not support the request. Israel says the Palestinians are trying to politicise soccer.

A demonstrator pickets the congress opening

Jibril Rajoub, President of the PFA, told the BBC: "I would like to see them coming up with a clear cut statement denouncing such behaviours but unfortunately the IFA (Israeli Football Association) is no more than plastic surgeon for the ugly face of the racist, brutal Israeli occupation."

The IFA says it is doing what it can to resolve players' movements being restricted and hold ups in equipment delivery, but that it is ultimately the government that is responsible, and Israeli players should not be penalised.

Even in the few short hours before item 15 was due to be debated, reports emerged that the IFA had agreed to four out of five Palestinian demands, but with the PFA understood to have refused to drop their motion without acceptance of the fifth.

Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, condemned the PFA motion in a post on Facebook this morning.

"It is important to understand, the Palestinian move to boycott Israel in the soccer arena is not because of something we did or didn’t do,” he wrote.

“This motion stems from the opposition to our right to our own state.”

Israeli security officials say a Palestinian player was briefly detained last week while leaving the country because he had served as a courier for Hamas in the past.

But despite last-minute diplomatic efforts from top football officials to begin negotiations and derail the vote, the PFA has insisted it would push ahead with presenting the motion to delegates, unless Israel expelled five teams based in settlements from its football league.

Protesters gathered outside the conference building on Friday and a pro-Palestinian activist briefly disrupted the congress after Blatter's opening address this morning in Zurich ahead of the vote.

An activist held up a red card and shouted "Red card to racism!" to draw attention to a campaign that aims to stop Palestinian players from being detained by Israeli security forces. Blatter called for security to remove the demonstrator.

After calling for security, Blatter announced: "I would ask you to please check the access points of this room."

In a key speech on a visit to the region last week, Blatter said the suspension of any Fifa member would be an “historic and dangerous precedent", although South Africa was banned for sixteen years by the international association for its apartheid system.

Speaking at the opening of the 65th Fifa conference, Blatter alluded to the PFA's motion - item 15 on the day's agenda.

"We have the possibility to create unity - and I will talk about this handshake for peace which is so easy, so good, and so effective," he told assembled conference delegates.

"We will have the possibility to play and to apply this handshake for peace and this will be under item 15 on the agenda.

Blatter opening the Fifa conference

"We have a problem to solve. It is a problem where a national association has requested that another national association should be suspended.

"And under this particular point we should find, what I should call, a solution. A solution which will finally satisfy these two federations - but mainly the Palestinians federation - and we will then be able to say, under item 15, let the handshake for peace do its work."

Delegates are expected to vote on whether to pass the PFA motion on Friday afternoon, before Fifa's Presidential election.

The Palestinians think they only need a majority to succeed - 50% plus one - but Fifa officials claim the proposal needs to garner the support of 157 out of the 209 countries voting in order to pass.

Here's the motion being proposed by the PFA to Fifa:

We call for the suspension of the IFA from Fifa until the following conditions are satisfied:

1. Football participants and all equipment related to the sport are able to move freely in, out and within Palestine.

2. Football facilities are to be built and maintained in Palestine without hindrance.

3. Football clubs established within illegal settlements in the West Bank are to be banned from playing in IFA competitions

4. IFA is to take firm action in order to eliminate racist and apartheid practices within its own leagues.

5. IFA is to recognise the PFA as the sole governing body for football within Palestine.

Pictures: Tensions high ahead of key votes

65th FIFA Congress

Fifa's Day Of Controversy


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