‘Inciting Hatred’: Palestinian Soccer Boss Gets 12-Month ‘Match’ Ban over Messi Comments

FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi looks on during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between FC Barcelona and Alaves at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Aug. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
AP/Manu Fernandez

Geneva (AFP) – FIFA on Friday hit the Palestinian Football Association chief with a year-long “match” ban after he called for protests against Lionel Messi over plans for Argentina to play Israel in Jerusalem.

In a statement, FIFA said it had sanctioned PFA president Jibril Rajoub for breaching codes against “inciting hatred and violence… following media statements he gave calling on football fans to target the Argentinian Football Association and burn jerseys and pictures of Lionel Messi.”

Rajoub had demanded that the Barcelona star not take part in the pre-World Cup friendly against Israel sceduled for June 9 and called on fans to burn shirts bearing his name if he did.

Rajoub told a June 3 press conference that Messi, “has tens of millions of fans in the Arab and Muslim countries… we ask everyone to burn their shirts which bear his name and posters (with his image).”

Under the sanction, Rajoub can still remain in office as PFA president but has restrictions imposed on his role.

He is barred from attending “football matches or competitions in any official capacity, which includes, among others, participating in media activities at stadiums or in their vicinity on matchdays,” FIFA said, without specifying restrictions on non-matchday events.

The suspension is distinct from a more draconian FIFA sanction which bans wrongdoers from taking part in all “football related activities.”

The sold-out Argentina-Israel friendly was originally meant to be held in Haifa but was moved to Jerusalem by Israel’s right-wing sports minister, Miri Regev, sparking Palestinian protests.

Palestinians claim the eastern part of Jerusalem, annexed by Israel, as the capital of their future state. Israel considers the entire city its own, “indivisible” capital.

On June 5, Argentina said it was pulling out of the game. Argentine FA president Claudio Tapia spoke of unspecified “threats” to the team.

Israel then announced that it would file a complaint to FIFA, accusing Rajoub of pressuring Argentine players and officials into cancelling.

Rotem Kamer, vice-president of the Israeli FA, has accused Rajoub of “football terror”.

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