The March 10 match in the West Bank town of al-Ram between Ramallah and Jerusalem was the first competitive international to be hosted on Palestinian home soil. (Getty Images)
(WFI) FIFA president Sepp Blatter will visit neighboring but sometimes not-so-neighborly nations Israel and Palestine over the weekend.
After arriving in Belgrade on Saturday for the opening of a new Serbian sports center, he will spend Sunday in Palestine and cross over the notoriously contentious border to Israel on Monday.
Blatter’s visit comes a day after he told Gazzetta dello Sport that FIFA would suffer “irreversible damage” if he was not re-elected on June 1.
The Swiss, in an open letter to the newspaper, said he expects to win the presidential battle with Asian football chief Mohamed Bin Hammam “with a clear majority of two-thirds of the votes”.
“South America, North America, Europe, Oceania and a considerable part of Africa and Asia will continue to support my ideas,” he said.
“However it is still worth considering what the alternative would be: no one.”
According to FIFA, Blatter was last in Palestine in October 2008 for its first-ever home international.
This time around, he’ll revisit Al-Husseini Stadium alongside HRH Prince Ali Al Hussein himself, then take in the opening ceremony of an international club tournament at Al-Ram Stadium, recently the site of Palestine’s first-ever competitive international to be played on home soil.
While in Israel, the FIFA boss will meet with Israeli counterpart Avi Luzon as well as other football officials and dignitaries.
The three-day tour comes after an otherwise ground-breaking match between Palestine and Thailand’s Olympic teams was undermined by Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinian players cross from one occupied territory – Gaza – to another – the West Bank. The Palestinian FA requested 12 players be allowed to make the short but obstacle-laden journey, but just four were allowed to pass.
The issue infuriated the Palestinians, whose manager said afterwards that five of the eight banned players would have played a role in the March 10 fixture.
“Politics has nothing to do with sport,” said Palestinian FA president Jibril Rajoub, who revisited the issue during a Thursday trip to IOC headquarters in Lausanne as part of his role as president of the Palestine Olympic Committee.
The meeting was the second
such gathering of sports leaders from Israel and Palestine under the mediation of the IOC, both focusing on the free movement of athletes between the two.
Just as in January, the talks included Olympic Committee of Israel president Zvi Varshaviak and secretary general Efraim Zinger as well as Rajoub and POC international relations director Khalid El-Yazji.
The Palestinian delegation also included Tanya Jaar from the International Affairs Desk of the Palestinian FA and Jérôme Champagne, advisor to the Palestinian Authority for the development of sport and football.
According to a statement from the IOC, it’s now up to Varshaviak and Zinger to present plans to the Israeli government for a method ensuring the safe travel of Palestinian athletes throughout his country. In the meantime, a so-called “hotline” to their counterparts in Palestine will deal with issues as they arise.
Israel on the left, Palestine on the right and IOC president Jacques Rogge in the middle. (IOC)
What remains to be seen is whether Blatter will pass freely over the border. Bin Hammam, his Qatari rival for the FIFA presidency, was detained at the Jordanian border for nearly two hours after the March match despite holding a diplomatic passport.