This one stings.
Israel has been condemned by FIFA, the organization that governs international soccer. Now, we’re pretty used to condemnations around these parts, both just and (usually) otherwise. But this is ridiculous.
FIFA claims to be entirely nonpolitical — or such has been its excuse over the years on the many occasions when it has pointedly ignored extreme human rights violations, going back generations, that have involved soccer stadiums and players. Consider, for example, the following cases (all taken from a recent National Review article by Tom Gross), none of which elicited a response of any kind from FIFA:
1. Saddam Hussein’s son Uday had Iraqi soccer players tortured in 1997 after they failed to qualify for the 1998 FIFA World Cup Finals in France.
2. Uday, who was chairman of the Iraqi soccer association, had star players tortured again in 1998.
3. In 2000, following a quarterfinal defeat in the Asia Cup, three Iraqi players were whipped and beaten for three days by Uday’s bodyguards. The torture took place at the Iraqi Olympic Committee headquarters.
4. The Taliban used U.N.-funded soccer fields to slaughter and flog hundreds of innocent people who had supposedly violated sharia law in front of crowds of thousands chanting “God is great.” (Afghan soccer coach Habib Ullahniazi said that as many as 30 people were executed in the middle of the field during the intermissions of a single soccer match at Kabul’s Ghazi Stadium.)
5. Soccer stadiums in Argentina were turned into jails.
6. According to the International Red Cross, about 7,000 prisoners were detained (and some tortured) in Chile’s national soccer stadium after Augusto Pinochet seized power in 1973.
7. Chechen president Akhmad Kadyrov was murdered by a bomb explosion at Grozny’s Dynamo soccer stadium.
8. FIFA refused to criticize the decision to name a Palestinian soccer tournament after a suicide terrorist who murdered 31 people at a Passover celebration at the Park Hotel in Netanya in 2002. (At the tournament, organized under Yasser Arafat’s auspices in 2003, the brother of the suicide bomber was given the honorary role of distributing the trophies to the winning team.)
9. FIFA failed to condemn the suicide bomb at the Maxim restaurant in Haifa in October 2003 which injured three officials from the leading Israeli soccer team Maccabi Haifa.
But last week, as Gross puts it, “FIFA finally found a target worthy of its outrage, and leapt into action.” That target was us.
What could we possibly have done to stir FIFA out of its torpor? Hold onto your hats, people. We conducted an airstrike on an empty Gazan soccer field. Why? Because it has been appropriated for training exercises by Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, who have been sending Qassam missiles into Israel with the express intent of killing and injuring civilians since the withdrawal from Gaza.
In fact, the Israeli strike took place two days after the Palestinians sent a Qassam missile barrage into Karmiya, an Israeli kibbutz. With a certain poetic irony, the missiles landed in the kibbutz’s soccer field.
Needless to say, that attack was A-OK as far as FIFA is concerned.
The deputy general secretary of FIFA, Jerome Champagne, has publicly condemned us — an unprecedented act — for hitting the Gazan field, and flatly refuses to issue a similar condemnation against the Palestinians for their prior missile attack on the kibbutz. More than that, he has consulted with FIFA president Sepp Blatter on the “appropriate action” that should be taken against us. (Champagne has defended himself from charges of discrimination with the following incisive argument: his wife is Jewish, so he can’t possibly be biased against Israel. Glad we cleared that up.)
Naturally, Israeli soccer fans (and Israel is every bit as soccer crazy as every other country in the world, save the US) are appalled over this condemnation. As Gross points out, they have several excellent questions for FIFA:
Where is FIFA when anti-Semitic banners go up in European soccer stadiums, and there are chants from spectators about sending Jews to the gas? …Where…are the FIFA sanctions against the Arab or Asian countries that refuse to allow Israel to compete in Asia? …why has FIFA moved games from Israel because guest teams were afraid to come to Israel, but has never banned any other national teams from playing home games on account of local Islamic violence? Indonesia, Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey were allowed to continue playing matches at home.
Furthermore, FIFA has a long history of placidly ignoring the boycotting of Israeli athletes:
In February, Tal Ben Haim — the Israeli national soccer team captain, who plays his club soccer for the English Premiership team Bolton Wanderers — was banned from joining his Bolton teammates for their training matches in Dubai. FIFA pointedly ignored this…last week, another English club, West Ham, left their two Israeli players, Yossi Benayoun and Yaniv Katan, at home when they went to Dubai. FIFA naturally had nothing to say.
No one is expecting satisfactory explanations for any of this. FIFA is otherwise occupied right now encouraging psychotic Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to attend the opening of the World Cup in Germany in a few weeks despite his history of Holocaust denial (a crime in Germany) and openly expressed desire to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Blatter’s response to questioning on the Ahmadinejad question: “”We’re not going to enter into any political declarations. We in football, if we entered into such discussions, then it would be against our statutes. We are not in politics.”
Still, as Gross notes,
Not all is rotten in world soccer…Last week, Ronaldinho, the Brazilian superstar widely regarded as the best current player in the world, donated signed footballs and shirts to Israeli child suicide bomb survivors, saying he hoped his gifts would “warm the hearts of the children who have suffered so much.”
Thank you, Ronaldinho. We appreciate it more than you know.