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12 Nations Call on FIFA to Ban Israel from World Soccer Competitions

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A group of twelve soccer associations in the Middle East are calling on FIFA to ban Israel from global participation in the sport, according to a letter obtained by Sky News.

The efforts are fronted by the president of the West Asian Football Federation, Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, the half brother of Jordan's King Abdullah II. The letter calls on FIFA to take a “decisive stand” against Israel. The Middle East nations cite Israel’s ongoing bombardment of the Gaza strip, initiated in response to Hamas’ assault on Oct. 7, which saw 1,200 Israelis killed. More than 130 people remain as hostages.

The coNFLict in Gaza has resulted in a humanitarian crisis, with more than 27,400 Palestinians killed, per the local Health ministry. Gaza’s entire 2.2 million population is facing food insecurity and approximately 1.7 million people have been internally displaced according to U.N. figures.

"We, the West Asian Football Federations, encompassing all its members, call upon FIFA, the Football Confederations, and Member Associations to join us in taking a decisive stand against the atrocities committed in Palestine and the war crimes in Gaza, by condemning the killing of innocent civilians including players, coaches, referees, and officials, the destruction of the football infrastructure, and taking a united front in isolating the Israeli Football Association from all football-related activities until these acts of aggression cease," Prince Ali wrote on behalf of the 12-nation group.  

Signatories of the letter include soccer associations from Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Qatar,and the United Arab Emirates. The letter has been sent to all 211 soccer federations and six regional confederations including the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), which commenced its UEFA Congress gathering in Paris on Thursday. 

Israel’s Football Association called the move “cynical and shameless” in a post shared on X (formerly Twitter). The body has also pleaded with FIFA to keep politics out of sporting decisions and allow them to qualify for the men’s European Championship commencing in June. 

"I am trusting FIFA not to involve politics in football," Israeli FA CEO Niv Goldstein told Sky News. “We are against involving politicians in football and being involved in political matters in the sport in general.” Goldstein told the news outlet that they are only focused on soccer matters and the upcoming tournament.

FIFA and Israel’s FA did not immediately respond to TIME’s request for comment.

In 2022, FIFA banned Russian clubs and national teams from competing in soccer events as a direct response to its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Some global spectators are arguing that this decision established a precedent that FIFA is not apolitical.

FIFA previously acted to remove Indonesia as its host nation for the 2023 Under-20 World Cup. The tournament was due to take place in May 2023, before FIFA stripped the nation of hosting duties over uncertainty about whether Israel would be allowed to comPete without disturbance. Months before the latest coNFLict broke out, officials and protesters alike called for Israel to be banned despite qualifying for the tournament. Indonesia does not hold diplomatic relations with Israel and views the nation as an occupying presence.  

The West Asian Football Federation is not the only group to call for Israel to be banned from  international sporting bodies. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel called on a number of sporting bodies including the International Olympic Committee and FIFA to exclude the nation over its human rights record. 

In January, former professional soccer player Gary Lineker, who presents BBC’s Match of the Day in the U.K., supported calls to suspend Israel. Lineker shared the statement on X, before agreeing with BBC bosses to delete it over the broadcaster’s stringent impartiality rules for its employees. 

Boycott movements also led a lengthy campaign calling on Puma to suspend its sponsorship of Israel’s national soccer team, which began in 2018. While the German sports brand terminated its sponsorship deal in December, a spokesperson previously told TIME the decision was purely part of its “fewer-bigger-better” business strategy, rather than a political choice. 

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