March 10, 2013

thfc-ad-hamavet-deactivated2013 asked: Why would holding the U21s Uefa tournament in Israel be different to holding it in other countries with fascist fans? Why punish Israeli footballers & Israeli football fans for the actions of their state & one teams fans??

Well personally I would not take the tournament away from Israel on the basis of the behaviour of Beitar Jerusalem fans - I reblogged someone who said that because 1.  the article about Beitar Jerusalem was important and 2. it’s a debate going on in football at the moment that I hoped would stimulate discussion on the subject (which until your question hasn’t happened on here).  I’d argue, similar to you broadly, that it would be unfair to take the tournament out of Israel on that basis because other countries who have hosted (or will host) similar tournaments would fail on the same criteria (i.e. having violent, far right, racist supporters organised within the country).  A horrible minority of fans, assuming that fans and players from around the world can be kept safe, is not a reason in itself to stop a tournament being held in my view.  Again on the proviso of safety, international tournaments can actually be an arena to combat racism and other forms of discrimination as it brings together a diverse range of people in terms of players and supporters.  I can appreciate why people would see Beitar’s fans as a reason for the tournament not being held but lots of other countries have a similar problem.  If it was on the basis that arab footballers could not have their safety guaranteed, then it’s a legitimate argument - but then I’d say that Beitar, from what I’ve read, does not represent the general experience of football supporters within Israel and they shouldn’t be judged as such.  I mean look at Hapoel Tel Aviv.

However, I took a bit of issue with the last part of your question when it comes to “actions of their state” - and why I do not believe Israel should be holding a major international football competition.  It’s a massive debate in itself and for the record I am not 100% sure of how I feel about it - but here’s my thought process.

The criteria for a country not hosting a football tournament is open to a lot of debate.  Politically, as I’m sure you probably do too, I separate the behaviour of “the state” from “the people” - so I am uneasy about taking away football events from countries where the people within them would take an immense amount of enjoyment from them just because the government they live under behave in an unethical way.  If you push that argument to its logical conclusion I’d say you could barely legitimise tournaments anywhere.  For example, should Russia be granted a tournament with their state’s human rights record?  Should London host the Olympics when they illegally invaded and continue to occupy Iraq?  The bottom line is that states do not make the people within them.  Whilst there is an argument to say that tournaments can equate to potentially offering a country’s state a minor piece of legitimacy on the world stage, I don’t think most people think that way.  On the pleasant level it’s an opportunity for football fans from around the world to mutually share and engage with their passion for football.  On the uglier side it’s just another opportunity for FIFA and its sponsors to make some bank.  In both cases, I’d say that government policy, asides from the most extreme cases, is not a justification for letting football fans miss out on being part of the world community of football.

But I have said I wouldn’t let Israel have the U21 tournament - so where am I drawing the line?  For me it is about the last part of what I just talked about - the ‘world community of football’.  In most cases I would not define a country’s FA or football fans within a country to be representative in a definitively, overtly, political sense of a country’s state - i’ve made that clear.  I think that’s true in Israel’s sense too.  As an aside, I think sides playing from a particular country provide a good opportunity in terms of media attention for highlighting political issues - for example, using Israeli national matches as an opportunity for highlighting Israel’s policy in the occupied territories, or Greek teams playing in Europe as an opportunity to shine light on the issue of immigrant and radical suppression, as was done recently.  That’s political opportunism, rather than making the definitive connection of state policy with the footballers or the team.  State policy does not define it’s team or it’s fans.  But where I draw the line on hosting football events is when state policy is actively and severely detrimental to the world community of football.  When that separation between football and state politics is irrevocably blurred.  I agree with your argument that broadly football fans should not be robbed of the opportunity to engage with big football events simply because of the behaviour of their state because state policy and the enjoyment of football are frequently divorced in terms of being able to engage with it.  But what about when a state’s policy robs others of football?  What about when a country’s state policy means footballers are not able to escape state policy to the detriment of world football?  I believe that is the case when it comes to Israel.

Football can be, and is, an arena for politics - but FIFA does not hold country’s accountable for unrelated behaviour of the state.  We broadly agree.  But what about when it is in relation to football?  Logically, FIFA (and indeed the world football community) should hold country’s accountable for their policy and impact on world football, so let’s focus on the football.

Israel has repeatedly persecuted Palestinian’s access to football - as a result Israeli state policy is openly detrimental and disruptive to international football competitions.  

This comes in a myriad of forms.  Israel has arbitrarily imprisoned Palestinian footballers - such as Mahmoud Sarsak who was imprisoned for three years without due legal process and was released only after 92 days of hunger strike.  A move so dubious that even Sepp Blatter, who rarely gets up off his behind, stepped in to oppose his imprisonment.  Palestinians with the talent and desire to play for their teams are unable due to crippling internal travel restrictions.  Despite the Palestinian national team being recognised by FIFA since 1998, many of its chosen players are not allowed to play because of being denied exit visas - as a result, the side is frequently cobbled together with players from the Palestinian diaspora rather than first choice players.  In 2006, the last match Palestine had for the Asian Cup qualifiers was called off due to all West Bank and Gaza-based players being denied exit visas.  Here’s some other similar instances from wikipedia:

“In October 2007, the second leg of a crucial 2010 World Cup qualifier between Palestine and Singapore was not played due to Palestine’s inability to obtain exit visas…

In May 2008, the team was not allowed to travel to the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup. After a 2011 World Cup qualifier against Thailand, two starters, Mohammed Samara and Majed Abusidu, were refused entry to the West Bank and therefore could not travel back with the team from Thailand...

Striker Ziyad Al-Kord was banned from travelling and had his house destroyed. Tariq al Quto was killed by the Israel Defense Forces, and during the 2008–2009 Israel–Gaza conflict three Palestinian footballers, Ayman Alkurd, Shadi Sbakhe and Wajeh Moshtahe, were among the Palestinian casualties.


The Rafah National Football Stadium in Gaza has been reduced to ruins by Israeli bombing raids, robbing people of the opportunity to play football, as has the headquarters for the Palestine Paralympics.  In short, Israel continues a series of state policies designed to crush Palestinian football.  

Obviously it sounds trite to focus on Israeli crimes against football within a political landscape of widespread oppression to the Palestinian population - but that’s my point.  We’re focusing on the impact on football as we both agree we should be when it comes to hosting international football tournaments.  Football is FIFA’s remit.

So it is perverse to deny football fans the opportunity of seeing a competition because of unrelated national politics.  But I’d argue that it is also, if not morseo, perverse to allow a state to host an international football tournament when they actively prevent others from engaging with international football.  

Fundamentally I agree that football fans should not be punished for general state policy, within reason.  But football should de-legitimise states and FA’s that damage world football - if we agree that the focus should be on football and not external politics.  You think it is unfair that football should be the casualty - what I am arguing is that in this case, football already is the casualty.

In short, it is fundamentally illogical to allow a state to host an international football competition when it openly and systematically denies others the opportunity to partake in international football competition.  That’s FIFA’s remit and it is what FIFA should be basing its decision on - and it is not.

  1. footballisradical posted this