Levi Opens Campaign to Stop FIFA From Banning Israel

IFA chairman Gavri Levi leaves for Sweden today; he is scheduled to take part in a UEFA congress in Stockholm.

IFA chairman Gavri Levi leaves for Sweden today; he is scheduled to take part in a UEFA congress in Stockholm.

Levi's main objective at the congress is to meet with FIFA president Sepp Blatter in order to try to persuade him that Arab countries' demands to suspend Israel from world soccer is baseless and illogical.

FIFA argued yesterday that the proposal by several Arab members of FIFA to have the matter discussed at their executive committee meeting in Zurich on May 3 is only following procedure.

FIFA's press office reported yesterday that it had received several angry letters from Israelis who protested what they saw as a certain move to ban Israel, but the press officials were at pains to explain that the fact that a proposal is being made does not mean that there is an intention to ban Israel.

UEFA's executive body meets in Stockholm today and the congress for all members opens tomorrow. One of the issues on the agenda is the rocky relationship between UEFA and FIFA. The question of the proposal to ban Israel, a full-fledged member of UEFA, could also come up for discussion.

A UEFA official speaking on condition of anonymity said yesterday that the chances of FIFA suspending Israel were "close to zero," partly because of the vehement objections UEFA is certain to raise on the matter.

Levi appealed to the 24 FIFA executive committee members yesterday, urging them not to support the call to ban Israel. In a document similar to the one he sent to Blatter last week, Levi said that the FIFA charter clearly stated that political issues would not influence its decisions.

"I hope that you will stick to FIFA statutes [Object-Art.2. 3.1] which state clearly: `There shall be no discrimination against a country or an individual for reasons of race, religion or politics,' and I kindly ask you to repel any attempt to harm our association, which has always been a loyal FIFA member."

Levi also expressed his optimism yesterday that FIFA would not ban Israel. He received the support of Sports Minister Matan Vilnai, who said yesterday that he is monitoring events "with concern" and would help in any way he could to repel the attack.

Various heads of major sports bodies warned Vilnai yesterday, however, that he should steer clear of the issue, since it might be construed as political meddling in sports issues.