Palestinians to Play World Cup Football Qualifiers at Neutral Grounds

Decision comes after the Saudi Arabian team refused to travel to the West Bank for a return match. The Saudis won the first round 3-2 in June.

AP

The Palestine football team will play its World Cup qualifying matches against Saudi Arabia and Malaysia at a neutral venue in Asia, FIFA decided on Wednesday. Both matches were originally scheduled to be played in the West Bank, but the Saudis announced on Tuesday that they would refuse to travel to the occupied territories for their games, prompting talks about a change in venue.

The final decision followed a meeting in Ramallah on Tuesday between FIFA’s security officer and Palestinian Authority officials, during which the Palestinians confirmed that they could "no longer guarantee the safety and security around the matches in question," FIFA said in a statement.

FIFA has asked the Palestinian Football Association to find a neutral ground in Asia to host both matches.

The first of the two matches was originally scheduled for Hebron on November 5, but after Saudi Arabia said it refused to travel to the Israeli-occupied area, except in undefined "exceptional circumstances", the FIFA Emergency Bureau for the World Cup Qualifiers met with the Palestinian federation and decided that the matches would be played at neutral grounds because "security guarantees cannot be compromised."

"Many Arab national teams refuse to play in the West Bank on the grounds that doing so would 'normalize' Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory," according to the Sports 24 website.

"Israel controls all access to the Palestinian territories, and Saudi Arabia has no diplomatic relations with Israel," it said.

The Palestine-Saudi Arabia match, which was originally scheduled for Thursday will now be played on November 9, while the Palestine-Malaysia match will still be played, as scheduled, on November 12.

The first of two Asia zone World Cup qualifiers between Saudi Arabia and Palestine was won 3-2 by the Saudis in June, according to Sports 24.