Palestinian soccer head banned for inciting Messi hatred
AP Global Soccer Writer
FIFA banned the head of Palestinian soccer from attending matches for a year on Friday for inciting hatred and violence toward Lionel Messi as part of a campaign to stop Argentina’s national team from playing in Israel.
The FIFA disciplinary case against Palestinian soccer federation head Jibril Rajoub centered on statements he made to the media before Argentina abruptly abandoned the trip to Jerusalem for a game against Israel in June.
Rajoub “incited hatred and violence” by calling on “football fans to target the Argentinian Football Association and burn jerseys and pictures of Lionel Messi,” soccer’s governing body said.
Justifying canceling the game, Argentina Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said that the players felt “totally attacked, violated” after images emerged of Argentina’s white and sky-blue striped jerseys stained with red paint that resembled blood following Rajoub’s comments.
FIFA imposed the minimum ban allowed in its disciplinary code for inciting hatred or violence. It prevents Rajoub from attending matches or engaging with the media at or near stadiums on matchdays for a year from Friday. Rajoub, who is also the head of the Palestinian Olympic Committee, was fined $20,300.
The ban will apply for the 2019 Asian Cup in United Arab Emirates, which kicks off in January, and will likely include the start of the 2022 World Cup qualifying program.
Rajoub is able to continue his day-to-day work running the federation and attending FIFA meetings. He has been a constant thorn in the side of soccer’s governing body as he tries to get sanctions imposed on Israel.
At the annual FIFA Congress, Rajoub regularly addresses soccer nations to demand Israel be punished for restricting movement of Palestinian players, and for forming teams in West Bank settlements. Israel has rejected the Palestinian campaign as an attempt to politicize sports and has cited security concerns as the reason behind the occasional restrictions placed on Palestinian players, particularly in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Israel’s plan to stage the Argentina game in Jerusalem also incensed Rajoub because the stadium that was to host the match is situated in a neighborhood built on the site of a former Palestinian village destroyed during the war surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948.
Palestinians claim the eastern sector of Jerusalem as their capital. Israel considers the entire city to be its capital after capturing east Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said after Argentina canceled the World Cup warm-up match that the team gave in to pressure from “Israeli-hating inciters.”
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