FIFA Just Do Nothing: There are some messes even they won’t wade into

Tim Hall’s View From 101

Israel and Palestine. 

Now, hang on for a second before you go throwing the paper down like it was covered in ebola or closing the webpage like your mom just walked in on you looking at something you’re not supposed to. We’re not going to go out to try and solve a complex centuries old here in the pages of a footie mag. We should try, that’s the adult thing to do to not run away from problems but to meet them head on and try to help, but nobody is claiming anyone around here is an adult, so we won’t try to fix the Middle East today. That’s for a real estate developer to do.
What we need to talk about concerns the… ah jeez, how to put this so nobody gets mad… the two aforementioned land masses, as it directly relates to soccer.
The really oversimplified short version of a much, much longer story goes as follows: there are a handful of teams who play in the disputed territories. These ‘settlement clubs’ are on land that both Israel and Palestine claim as their own, but play as part of the lower levels of the Israel Football Association. The Palestinian Authority, as you may have surmised, have a problem with this.
As part of the ongoing issues with travel between Israel and Palestine, a special FIFA monitoring committee was set up two years ago to make sure that all the rules about political interference in football were being followed. Now, with border issues still present and the settlement clubs in disputed lands, over 170 Palestinian football clubs (many of them youth clubs) sent a letter demanding FIFA finally take action instead of simply monitoring the situation endlessly. 

The idea is that by pressuring FIFA, the Palestinian FA can get the Israeli FA to end the operations of teams playing “on the territory of another member association without the latter’s approval” as laid out in the FIFA Statutes. Should the Israelis refuse, the PFA would ideally like to see the IFA suspended or banned from FIFA, and, perhaps that could be used as a bargaining chip in the larger overall political climate. So, in essence, the PFA is claiming the IFA is using political influence in football, in order to use football influence politically. 

It was believed that FIFA would take up the issue at their annual retreat this month, scheduled to take place in Bahrain, which is apparently lovely in May. Prior to the meeting getting underway, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phoned FIFA President Gianni Infantino and urged him to disregard the Palestinian protest. And the Israeli delegation was said to have turned up to the annual meeting with diplomats in tow to urge individual member nations to do the same. This would be using political influence to get people to ignore political influence, but the irony seems to be utterly lost on everyone involved.
So it came to pass, while the FIFA officials weren’t lighting cigars with $100 bills, that the next item on the agenda were the proposals from both the PFA and the IFA. The Palestinians wanting the game’s governing body to drop the hammer on Israel, and the Israelis offering up a solution for which they would not publicly divulge details but promised to keep politics out of sport and to keep FIFA out of the messy issue of Palestinian statehood. 

To aid them in this venture, the special Monitoring Committee, led by the fantastically-named Tokyo Sexwale, gave their report and recommendations: give the IFA six months to pull the teams out of the disputed zone, or else sanctions would follow against the clubs, the Association, or both.
So now, with all the information laid out before them, on May 9 it was time for the FIFA Council to come to a conclusion. So what did they do?

“Following the report by chairman of the Monitoring Committee Israel-Palestine Tokyo Sexwale, the FIFA Council considered that at this stage it is premature for the FIFA Congress to take any decision.”

They did nothing. Zero. Bupkis. Squat. The square root of jack. 

Which is fine. Great, in fact. 

Wherever your political or spiritual affiliations lie concerning the Middle East powder keg, and regardless of how big or small a win you think this case might have been for your side, set that aside for just a moment. As a fan of football, you probably have at least a working knowledge of who FIFA are and what FIFA does. Armed with that, you know that the absolute last people that should be wading in to this deeply complex and difficult situation are the criminals, thugs, despots, and future handcuff models that make up the highest echelons of FIFA. Even the relatively sane and good ones are pretty scummy when you dig down deep enough. 

Remember, this is the group that gave a summer tournament to Qatar, and when the world raised its voice in a collective chorus of “that seems like a catastrophically bad idea for a number of really obvious reasons”, FIFA shrugged their shoulders and said it wasn’t their problem because it was time for their lunch break. Sorry, union rules. 

Even if the answer here was so blindingly and blatantly obvious, what would give anyone an iota of confidence that FIFA would get it right anyway? Even on stuff they should know, things which are simple, soccer-related facts, they still manage to botch it sometimes anyway. At the beginning of the meeting in Bahrain, as a test to make sure everyone’s voting machines were working correctly, the question was asked “Are Germany the current men’s world champions?” Twelve countries said no. 

Or take Mahfuza Akhter Kiron of Bangladesh, elected to one of the spots on FIFA’s Asian Football Council specifically held for women. Asked who the Women’s World Cup holders are, Kiron first said North Korea (who did not even make it out of Asian qualifying for Canada 2015), then said Japan (at least they were finalists two summers ago) before finally landing on the United States. 
So instead of criticizing FIFA’s failure to act on a thorny issue, we should be applauding their ability to admit that they do not know what they do not know, and deciding that certain things are above their pay grade, because the alternative would likely have been a decision handed down from on high that would have been shocking and offensive to the sensibilities of people on all sides. It’s sad that we should celebrate FIFA not shooting themselves in the foot, but we have to start somewhere.

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