By PETER LARSON*
The Canadian Soccer Association will have a say in whether Israel is given the “red card’ by FIFA’s Congress on May 29th. Read more on how this is likely to play out based on my recent conversation with the CSA General Secretary, Peter Montopoli.
The Palestinian Football Association has tabled a motion at FIFA’s annual congress to suspend Israel from international soccer until it stops its harassment of the Palestinian National Soccer team. I tried several times to contact Victor Montagliani, President of the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) about the upcoming FIFA congress and the proposed vote. Unable to get any response, I then wrote him an open letter, urging him to carefully consider the motion put forward by the Palestinian Football Association to suspend Israel from FIFA.
My letter did not ask him to support the Palestinian motion, as I don’t know whether the allegations are well founded. But I did urge him to carefully consider the evidence and base his decision, not on politics, but on the merits of the case. I copied the letter to many people, some of whom also wrote Mr. Montagliani to urge him to vote according to Canadian values of fairness and justice.
A week later, I was happy to receive a return phone call from the General Secretary of the Canadian Soccer Association, Mr. Peter Montopoli who wanted to discuss the issue. In a forthright conversation, we discussed the Palestinian motion and likely outcomes. He told me that FIFA President Sepp Blatter is still in discussion with both the Palestinian and Israeli Football Associations in an attempt to resolve the issue.
Israel appears to be particularly anxious to prevent the vote getting to the floor of FIFA’s Congress, where Palestine will undoubtedly have a lot of support among the 209 voting members. So trying to send the issue off for another year of study, as already happened in 2013 and again in 2014, might be an Israeli option.
Israel is taking the threat very seriously. Shortly after FIFA agreed to consider the Palestinian Football Association’s request to suspend Israel, the CEO and President of the Israeli Football Association Ofer Eini flew to Switzerland to head off the move, according Israeli news source Ynet. With Einer was Attorney Efraim Barak, the Israeli Football Association’s legal advisor. Barak has rich experience in international sports and Israel can be expected to oppose the motion on legal grounds.Palestine has a lot of sympathy in the developing world, of course. But not only there. In the United Kingdom, soccer fans have launched a world wide movement to force Israel to end its racism toward Palestinian soccer players. Red Card Israeli Racism (RCIR) has as its objective: “the suspension of the Israeli Football Association (IFA) from FIFA until Israel observes international law and respects the human rights of Palestinians.” RCIR has also launched an international petition on the issue.
Israel is not without friends in high places. It has recruited a number of significant players in the soccer world, including former French football star Michel Platini, who is now head of the European football Association (UEFA), to help derail the motion.
While each of the 209 countries who belong to FIFA will have a say, the real decision is likely to be taken behind closed doors by members of the FIFA executive and its key committees – including the legal committee on which sits Victor Montagliani, President of the CSA.
How will this all play out? We will know on May 29th.
Mr. Montopoli was unable to tell me how Canada might vote if the issue does come to the floor of the congress. It will depend on the outcome of last minute negotiations, he said. He did reassure me that Canada’s vote would be on the merits of the case, and not based on political allegiances. According to Mr. Montopoli, our Canadian government’s well known support for Israel will not influence the CSA vote.
If the issue comes to the floor of the congress, many Canadians will be interested to see how Canada votes. I told Mr. Montopoli I would contact his office after May 29th to find out what we did and the main reasons motivating the choice.
To be continued.
*Peter Larson is Chair of the National Education Committee on Israel Palestine (NECIP). He is also a board member of the National Committee on Canada Arab Relations (NCCAR). His professional background includes periods at the Public Policy Forum, the Conference Board of Canada and the French language daily “Le Droit”. In addition, for many years he was well known as a syndicated columnist with the Southam Newspaper chain. This article is reposted from his blog, Canada Talks Israel-Palestine