‘We’re telling them we exist’: FIFA to discuss possible Israel expulsion as Palestine women’s team makes history

Less than a week after the United Nations passed a resolution favouring Palestinian membership, FIFA is the next global governing body set to enter the discussion as they address a proposal to expel Israel from international football.

The proposal was formally submitted by the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) in March for discussion at FIFA’s 74th annual Congress in Bangkok, where member nations and the executive committee have been gathered since Wednesday to vote on a number of key issues.

These include the international match calendar and deciding the host nation of the 2027 Women’s World Cup.

A bald white man stands at a blue podium wearing a suit, speaking into a microphone with a slide in the background

FIFA will vote on a proposal introduced by the Palestinian Football Association to expel Israel from world football due to violations of international law.(Getty Images: Apinya Rittipo)

The PFA’s proposal, which has been endorsed by several powerful members of the West Asia Football Federation, including Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, calls upon FIFA to “respect and protect all internationally recognised human rights, as explicitly outlined in more than a few articles in its statutes, by addressing the grave human rights and humanitarian law violations committed by Israel”.

More specifically, the PFA highlights the “complicity demonstrated by the Israel Football Association (IFA) in its continued inclusion of football teams located in the territory of occupied Palestine within its national league,” arguing the football association is “providing moral, economic, and practical support to the occupation” of Palestinian territories.

“The IFA is complicit in the Israeli government’s violations against Palestinian football,” the submission says.

Citing several of FIFA’s own statutes, the PFA calls upon the governing body to observe their public commitment to upholding internationally-recognised human rights, prohibiting discrimination of any kind, and promoting friendly relations between member associations, which includes article 71.2 that “Member associations and their clubs may not play on the territory of another member association without the latter’s approval.”

The proposal also notes the IFA’s repeated failure to “take action against discrimination and racism within its jurisdiction,” pointing to Israeli club Beitar Jerusalem FC, described as “the most racist club in Israel” for its supporters’ public anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments, with banners reading “Death to Arabs” and “Forever Pure” common among its ultras community.

According to the PFA, around 100 footballers have been part of the tens of thousands of Palestinians killed over the course of the conflict, in addition to the destruction of football facilities and infrastructure.

Soccer fans hold a large banner with a Palestinian flag during a game

Large banners have been unfurled at several World Cup games, including the Group A opener between Qatar and the Netherlands.(Getty Images: Harry Langer/DeFodi Images)

In a February letter to FIFA, 12 nations from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) wrote to FIFA and all its member nations calling for Israel’s exclusion from world football due to these violations.

“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,” the letter said.

This is not the first time the PFA have considered a proposal regarding Israel’s exclusion to the FIFA Congress. A similar initiative was considered back in 2015, with the PFA arguing the IFA restricted the freedom of movement of players inside Palestine’s occupied territories, but this proposal was dropped by the PFA just before the vote.

Instead, FIFA passed a proposal introduced by former president Sepp Blatter to create a multilateral committee of observers to monitor the issue.

Football Australia, represented at the congress by newly-elected chairman Anter Isaac, has been caught in the middle, asked by groups from both sides of the conflict to vote in one way or another if the congress decides to progress the proposal to that stage.

Former Socceroo and human rights campaigner Craig Foster has been a vocal supporter of the PFA’s proposal, writing to FA last week encouraging them to support the request and to communicate such support throughout the congress.

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“Football Australia has a duty to do everything possible to stop genocide whenever, and wherever it occurs, and whilst its response has been deeply inconsistent, sport has historically proven to be an important lever of influence in the face of gross injustice,” Foster wrote.

“We consider ourselves a compassionate, fair and objective people, and around 80 per cent of Australians, and our many million-strong football community, want to see an immediate ceasefire, accountability for all war crimes, imposition of international law and peace, and self-determination for all parties.

“Upholding international law is not taking a partisan approach. Rather, it is the only objective action at our disposal that ensures the protection of all members of our football family around the world.

“Sport is not just kicking a ball. It encompasses billions of people and the actions it takes demonstrate and best communicate the values it purports to represent.

“Stopping genocide must be the absolute minimum expectation.”

The FA board has reportedly opted to abstain from any possible vote.

However, multiple other member nations at the congress are expected to vote in favour, including the Republic of Ireland, which this week hosted an historic ‘solidarity friendly’ between the Palestine women’s national team and Dublin-based club team, Bohemian FC.

It was the first time the Palestinian women’s team had played a game in Europe after the fan-owned Irish club, which last year released a Palestine-themed away jersey to raise money for Palestinian aid organisations and regularly flies its flags during matches, invited the national team to Dalymount Park for a fundraising friendly.

Two women soccer players wearing maroon and white celebrate during a game with Palestine flags in the background

The sell-out match in Dublin raised thousands of dollars for Palestinian aid organisations.(Getty Images: Stephen McCarthy)

Ticket sales for Wednesday’s match, which Palestine won 2-1, covered the costs of the team and their delegation’s visit, with the remainder split between charity partners Palestine Sport for Life, medical Aid for Palestinians, and Aclaí Palestine, an Irish-associated community gym located in the Aida refugee camp in the West Bank.

Both sets of players were invited to a pre-game ceremony hosted by Irish president Michael Higgins, whose government was part of the overwhelming majority who voted in favour of Palestine’s membership of the United Nations last Friday.

“We have a reason to tell the people that we are human beings,” defender Mira Natour said at the event.

“We have rights the same as you, to play. We have the right to express our feelings, we have the right to be recognised by the world.

“With this event, we’re telling them we exist.”

Seán McCabe, one of the organisers of the sold-out match, said that discussions about a return game in Palestine once it was safe to do so had occurred, and hoped that the women’s game would prompt a friendly between the two national men’s teams in future.

Before kick-off, a Palestinian flag was placed on every seat of the stadium, while a mural of Hind Rajab, a six-year-old Palestinian girl who was killed in Gaza, was unveiled outside the ground.

A person paints a mural of a young Palestinian girl on a wall with a woman holding a Palestine flag walking in the foreground

A mural of Hind Rajab, a six-year-old Palestinian girl who was killed in Gaza, was unveiled outside the ground before the match.(Getty Images: Stephen McCarthy)

Fans who weren’t able to attend the game in person were encouraged to buy access to the global live-stream, purchase a non-attendance ticket, or donate directly to the associated humanitarian organisations online.

On Thursday, the Asian Football Confederation presented a video to the FIFA Congress on behalf of Palestine’s association that highlighted the deaths of players and officials and damage to infrastructure that has been caused during the conflict.

FIFA is expected to discuss the proposal, and potentially vote to expel Israel from international competition, on Friday.

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