As the 2015 FIFA Congress remains roiled in disarray following the dramatic arrests of leading officials on corruption charges, the Palestinian Football Association is not deterred. The PFA is still moving forward with a Friday vote to suspend the Israeli Football Association unless it pledges to push its government to cease the detentions, imprisonments, and targeting of Palestinian players and clubs (here is a comprehensive list of their concerns). As PFA President Jibril Rajoub said, “Nothing has changed, the vote is still on the agenda.”
After a meeting with embattled FIFA chief Sepp Blatter, long desperate to avoid such a vote, as well as Arab and Israeli authorities, Rajoub said, “The meeting lasted about one hour, there were no results.”
Whether Rajoub is able to get this vote on the agenda given the chaos engulfing FIFA at the moment is a real concern that should in no way be discounted, but that doesn’t mean the recent high-profile arrests don’t also present opportunities for campaigners. Before seizing them, however, there is a need to first cast away the rampant theories that the US Justice Department’s transatlantic criminal sting was somehow timed to aid Israel. The much-trafficked belief is that the United States facilitated the timing of this operation in its efforts to help its greatest ally to avoid the humiliation of becoming the first country since apartheid South Africa to be suspended by FIFA. Surely the fires of such thoughts were stoked by editorials in The Jerusalem Times crowing that the arrests “couldn’t have come at a better time for Israel.”
But, typical of the Jerusalem Times editorial page, this makes little sense. It also ignores the ways in which the spotlight on FIFA has only grown in the last 48 hours, providing new leverage for those who want to make the soccer congress an arena to actually confront human-rights abuses instead of facilitating them.
The idea that a United States Justice Department that can’t even get its attorney general approved for six months, could pull off a multi-year, multimillion-dollar transatlantic sting operation with the perfect timing to stymy a vote whose existence was in doubt even days ago is to put it mildly, unrealistic. But even more pertinently, with these arrests the US Justice Department and Swiss authorities just gutted the North American delegation, the group most likely to support and lobby for Israel at the FIFA Congress. This would be like dropping Steph Curry on his head as part of a master plan to help the Warriors win the NBA title.