Israel could be booted out of world football, says Fifa's Blatter

By Simon Griver, July 11, 2013
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Fifa President Sepp Blatter has warned that Israel could be suspended from international football.

Speaking during what he described as a “sensitive diplomatic mission” to Israel this week, Mr Blatter claimed that government interference in football was the main reason for the threat.

“If Israel is not careful the only team it will be able to play is Cameroon,” Mr Blatter told Israel FA Chairman Avi Luzon. Fifa suspended Cameroon last week over government interference in the country’s football federation.

Mr Blatter also raised Palestinian concerns about alleged restrictions on the movement of Arab players between Gaza and the West Bank.

During his visit to Ramallah on Sunday, the Fifa president relayed to journalists a threat from Palestine FA head Jibril Rajoub that he would call on delegates at the next Fifa congress to expel Israel if the matter is not resolved.

Meanwhile, Israeli Sports Minister Limor Livnat scored an own goal by releasing a controversial report by former accountant general Yaron Zelicha on the state of Israeli football while Mr Blatter was visiting.

The report condemned Israeli football as “rotten to the core,” and called for the resignation of Mr Luzon over his alleged links to Maccabi Petach Tikvah, where he formally served as chairman. Ms Livnat said: “This is a basic and ethical point. A person with a conflict of interests cannot head the association.”

Mr Blatter responded: “I read the Zelicha report. I don’t want to threaten but government interference will bring Fifa sanctions. The Israel FA could encounter difficulties if there are problems. The national team and club sides would not be able to play in Europe. I hope we won’t need to suspend Israel. The Euro Under-21 tournament in Israel was a huge success and it’s a shame that everything would be ruined. We are not talking about a yellow card but a warning.”

Mr Blatter met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who showed the Fifa president photos of missiles being fired at Israel from Gaza football stadium. “This is a double war crime. You’re firing on civilians and you’re hiding behind civilians,” Mr Netanyahu said.

Mr Blatter announced that he was setting up a Fifa task force to investigate the Palestinian travel problem.

Last updated: 12:43pm, July 11 2013