Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 September 2019

Bahrain conference: Palestinians condemn Fifa's Gianni Infantino for attendance

Palestinians, who boycotted the event, accused the football boss of taking sides in the Middle East conflict

Fifa President Gianni Infantino has been criticised for his appearance at US President Donald Trump and Jared Kushner's controversial Bahrain workshop. AP 
Fifa President Gianni Infantino has been criticised for his appearance at US President Donald Trump and Jared Kushner's controversial Bahrain workshop. AP 

Palestinians boycotting the US-sponsored economic workshop in Bahrain condemned Fifa president Gianni Infantino for attending, saying he has taken sides in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The Swiss-Italian football chief, 49, has presented himself as neutral on the decades-long conflict.

But his appearance at the US-sponsored investment conference in Bahrain, an event aimed at drumming up economic rewards for the Palestinians in return for peace with Israel, has angered officials in Ramallah, so much so that one official called for the Fifa’s ethics committee to look into his appearance at the event, where he spoke on a panel about how football can bring people together.

In attending a summit the Palestinians boycotted, Mr Infantino is accused by officials in Ramallah of taking a political stance and siding with Israel and the administration of President Donald Trump.

“How can the president of the highest governing body of football agree to participate in a political workshop whose objective is to determine the future of Palestine in the absence of Palestinians?” Palestine Football Association president Jibril Rajoub wrote to Mr Infantino in a letter seen by The National.

“I am sure that your intention is to help the cause of peace, and promote football as a bridge for peace, but, from where I’m standing, I’m afraid millions will see it differently,” he wrote.

Mr Infantino’s team did not provide comment. Uefa, Europe’s football body, declined to comment.

Mr Infantino spoke on a panel in Manama yesterday where he talked about engaging with actors across the region, whoever they may be, using a trip to the Iranian capital, Tehran, as an example. He said Palestine is one of the 211 member countries of Fifa and treated like any other.

“We can do so much in the region, in Palestine, in the Middle East, in the Gulf. I think that here football can help as well,” he said yesterday. “There is a lot of prejudice, I think that football can contribute to change.”

But Palestinians have previously criticised Mr Infantino for not helping them to combat Israeli policies in the occupied West Bank at the football body.

Israel has several teams based in West Bank settlements that play in Israel’s highest league, in contravention of international law but with the backing of Fifa.

Gonzalo Boye, the head of the legal department of the Palestine Football Association, said the Palestinians were deciding on their next course of action.

“It is most probably a matter not for us but for the ethics committee,” he told The National.

“According to the ethics committee, he should not only be neutral but he should never involve politics in the game.”

Updated: June 27, 2019 02:33 PM

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