The Football Federation of Israel and the company in charge of organizing the now-canceled friendly match between Argentina and Israel will demand FIFA expel the Argentine team from the 2018 World Cup in Russia due to alleged “religious discrimination.”
The match was intended for Saturday, June 9 at 3:30 p.m. local Israeli time, but it was called off after an intense campaign from the BDS movement. It would have been the last match before the team's official participation in the World Cup.
Comtec Group, an Israeli production company that regularly organizes sport-washing events in the occupied territories, announced Thursday morning they will fly to Zurich and file a complaint hoping to get the star Latin American team kicked out of the tournament, according to the Argentine TyCSports, their organizing counterpart.
The company said they had already paid US$2 million to the Argentine Football Association (AFA) and that the tickets for the match programmed at the Teddy Kollek Stadium in Jerusalem sold out in just 20 minutes.
The Football Federation of Israel backed up Comtec Group's decision, which echoes their previous accusations against the Palestinian Football Association.
The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a blatant sports diplomacy move, unsuccessfully called Argentine President Mauricio Macri to try and convince the national team to play the friendly match. Macri, according to The Times of Israel, told Netanyahu he had no control over their decision.
In fact, it was AFA's President Claudio “Chiqui” Tapia who made the decision. “The ones calling us ignorant are underestimating us because this conflict has been going on for more than 70 years. What happened in the last few hours led us to take this decision...” said Tapia in a press conference after multiple protests against the match.
“I hope you all can understand the decision I took as a contribution to world peace. Football goes beyond religions, sexes... and has nothing to do with violence...” he continued.
But some people didn't understand the message and interpreted the move as an aggression instead of resistance.
“It’s unfortunate the soccer knights of Argentina did not withstand the pressure of the Israeli-hating inciters, whose only goal is to harm our basic right to self-defense and bring about the destruction of Israel,” said Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. “We will not yield before a pack of anti-Semitic terrorist supporters.”
Argentina's Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi during training at Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper, Barcelona, Spain - June 6, 2018. Photo | Reuters.
The turn of the events even fostered controversy within the occupation authorities. The Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Mirian Regev, from the conservative Likud party, is being accused by several Israeli officials and football fans of politicizing the match by moving it from Haifa to Jerusalem, a move that proved controversial given the recent decision by the U.S. administration of Donald Trump to recognize the city as Israel's capital, contradicting international agreements. Palestinians see at least the eastern part of the city as the future capital of their independent state.
Yitzhak Herzog, a Labor Party member of the Knesset and leader of the opposition, called Regev's move “a spectacular own goal,” while Avi Gabbay, head of the same party, called for an investigation on Regev over corruption allegations.
Regev, on her part, accused the Knesset members of being “troy horses aiding terrorism.”
Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestinian football association, celebrated Argentina’s move at a press conference by reading a fan’s sign that said: “From Palestine, thank you Messi.”
The Israeli embassy in Argentina regretted the decision to cancel the match and blamed the “threats and provocations aimed at Lionel Messi, which logically sparked solidarity among his partners and fear over the match,” and suggested that this is what athletes in the Middle Eastern country must endure in their everyday life.