Iran’s football federation has formally requested FIFA, the global football governing body, to suspend Israel’s football federation due to the country’s involvement in the war in Gaza.
In a statement on the Iranian football federation’s website, Iran called for a complete suspension of Israel’s football activities and urged FIFA to take immediate and serious measures.
The request emphasizes preventing what Iran describes as Israeli “crimes” and ensuring aid delivery to innocent people in Gaza.
However, the Israeli Football Association has appealed to FIFA to keep politics out of sport and continue their qualification attempts for the men’s European Championship.
The Arab Community’s Response to the Israeli-Hamas Conflict
The war in Gaza, initiated by a terror attack from Hamas militants on October 7, 2023 resulted in significant casualties.
Israel, in response, launched airstrikes and a ground offensive. Iran, which doesn’t recognize Israel, praised Hamas’ attack but denied direct involvement.
Also, the Iranian government prohibited any contact between Iranian and Israeli athletes, and in the past, athletes faced consequences for such interactions.
In August last year, Iranian authorities imposed a lifetime ban on weightlifter Mostafa Rajaei for shaking hands with an Israeli competitor during an event in Poland, as reported by state media.
Additionally, the Iranian weightlifting federation took action by dismissing the head of the delegation for the competition, Hamid Salehinia.
In 2021, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, issued a directive urging athletes not to shake hands with representatives of the Israeli government, which he referred to as a “criminal regime,” even if it meant renouncing a medal.
The Twelve Middle Eastern Football Association Coalition
Notably, a group of Middle Eastern football associations, including Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, also urged FIFA to ban Israel over its actions in the conflict with Hamas.
The twelve coalition of Middle Eastern football associations, led by Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, half-brother of Jordan’s King Abdullah II, sent a letter to FIFA, UEFA, and all national football federations, calling for condemnation of alleged atrocities and war crimes.
Prince Ali bin Al Hussein sent the letter acting in his capacity as president of the West Asian Football Federation.
The coalition further called for the isolation of the Israeli Football Association from football-related activities until the conflict ceases.
The Jordanian FA president Prince Ali wrote: “We, the West Asian Football Federations, encompassing all its members, call upon FIFA, the Football Confederations, and Member Associations to join us in taking a decisive stand against the atrocities committed in Palestine and the war crimes in Gaza.
“By condemning the killing of innocent civilians including players, coaches, referees, and officials, the destruction of the football infrastructure, and taking a united front in isolating the Israeli Football Association from all football-related activities until these acts of aggression cease.”
UEFA-FIFA General Secretary’s Remarks
UEFA’s general secretary, Theodore Theodoridis, stated that there have been no discussions or intentions to exclude Israeli teams, with any decision likely made by the executive committee.
While the Israeli FA urges football authorities not to politicize the sport, they extend goodwill to Jordan for their appearance in the Asian Cup final against Qatar.
Israeli FA CEO Niv Goldstein expressed trust in FIFA to keep politics separate from football.
“I am trusting FIFA not to involve politics in football. We are against involving politicians in football and being involved in political matters in the sport in general,” he told Sky News.
“So, we are concentrating only on football matters and our dream is to qualify for the European Championship in 2024 and I’m looking forward to world peace.”
FIFA’s Past Nation Banning
FIFA banned Russia from international football, on 28 February 2022, due to its unprovoked, full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
This decision raised questions in Jordan about potential inconsistencies in approaches to nations involved in wars.
Goldstein commented on FIFA’s decision to ban Russia from international football, stating that it’s not within his scope to make such decisions.
“This is not for me to decide,” Goldstein said. “And obviously we think there is a lot of difference between our situation and other situations that happened in the world.”
UEFA believes how the Israel-Hamas war started adds a different complexity to the decision on banning teams.