In October 2011, Jack Warner resigned as vice-president of FIFA, the governing body of international soccer, after being accused of bribing members of the Caribbean football union in an effort to elect Mohamed Bin Hamman of Qatar as FIFA’s next president.
Commenting on these allegations, Warner blamed Zionism, among other things, for his downfall. “I will talk about the Zionism, which probably is the most important reason why this acrid attack on Bin Hamman and me was mounted” he said. This bizarre statement was brushed off as nonsense.
On Wednesday, seven FIFA officials were arrested at their hotel in Zurich. The arrests were made at the request of the US Department of Justice. This new scandal exploded just as FIFA was discussing a PLO request to suspend Israel from the organization.
In April, Jibril Rajoub, head of Palestinian Football Association, appealed for the third time to bar Israel from FIFA. Twice before, current president Sepp Blatter has rejected the appeal. This latest appeal, however, has created enough commotion to get Prime Minister Netanyahu involved.
Rajoub charged Israel using the typical slurs. Evil Israel is imposing travel restrictions on Palestinian football players and officials, and its major football clubs are racist. “For years,” insisted Rajoub, “we have asked confederations in Asia and Europe to interfere and stop the suffering of Palestinian footballers … When that didn’t work we decided to go directly to FIFA’s general assembly.”
The motion to suspend Israel requires support from two-thirds of the 209 delegates. If the motion passes, Israel will become the only national team to be barred from FIFA, aside from South Africa’s temporary suspension from 1964-1992. Such an outcome could literally destroy Israeli football (soccer).
Aware of the implications, on May 19, Netanyahu met with a sympathetic Blatter (pictured), who said after the meeting: “Football is nowadays such a strong organization that we should go into a peace situation and not into a fighting situation, and football shall connect and not divide people. I’m very happy about what Prime Minister Netanyahu has said … I’m sure we will find a solution.”
In timing that couldn’t have been more beneficial for Israel, just as pressure was mounting on FIFA like never before to ban Israel, seven of the organization’s top officials have been arrested for corruption.
The effect of the scandal was felt immediately. Rajoub was adamant that the vote against Israel, scheduled for May 29, would not be derailed by the corruption investigation. But Israel Football Association chairman Ofer Eini said before leaving for Zurich that he is “an optimistic man.”
Whatever the outcome of Friday’s vote, only fools would suggest any correlation between attempts to ban Israel from FIFA and the timing of the scandal that has embroiled the organization.