FIFA bans Palestinian soccer chief for inciting violence against Messi

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The international soccer body FIFA on Friday banned the head of the Palestinian Football Association from attending soccer games for a year for inciting hatred and violence toward star player Lionel Messi.

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Jibril Rajoub called on Arab soccer fans to burn Messi posters and shirts if he participated in an Argentina game in Jerusalem in June. His campaign led to Argentina canceling the World Cup warm-up match.

In its decision, FIFA’s disciplinary committee cited comments by the Palestinian FA president “calling on football fans to target the Argentinian Football Association and burn jerseys and pictures of Lionel Messi.”

Rajoub was banned from attending any soccer matches in an official capacity for 12 months starting Friday.

FIFA decided to begin the disciplinary proceedings against Rajoub in June, after Israel lodged a complaint with the organization over his calls for posters and jerseys of Messi to be burned, as well as his threat to thwart Argentina’s bid to host the World Cup in 2030.

This June 5, 2018, picture shows a poster erected in the West Bank town of Hebron calling for a boycott of soccer star Lionel Messi (l) next to a portrait of the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. (AFP/Hazem Bader)

At the same time, FIFA member federations also rejected a Palestinian proposal to amend world soccer’s statutes with a stronger stance against human rights abuses. FIFA members voted 156 to 35 against the motion, which was formally supported by the Iraq and Algeria soccer bodies.

Messi and Argentina were to have played Israel in Jerusalem’s Teddy Kollek Stadium on June 9, as a final warm-up before the 2018 World Cup.

The cancellation led to political fallout, with Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev accused of moving the match from Haifa, where it was originally to be held, to Jerusalem as a PR move.

Opposition lawmakers also claimed that money changed hands to ensure photo opportunities for Regev, while the state comptroller’s office opened a probe into the reservation of many of the tickets to the friendly for sponsors and other bodies.

Regev welcomed FIFA’s decision to ban Rajoub on Friday, claiming that it exonerated her from responsibility for the cancellation of the game with Argentina.

“FIFA management did what what was expected and demanded of them and ruled there is no room for terrorists who incite violence in the world of soccer,” Regev said.

She said the decision “unmasked the terrorist Rajoub and proved what many here have refused to recognize: The reason for the cancellation of the Israel-Argentina friendly was the deliberate campaign of intimidation waged by Rajoub and his associates, who threatened Messi’s life, and not the decision to play the game in Jerusalem.”

Regev added that Rajoub “belongs behind bars and not in soccer stadiums or the corridors of FIFA.”