FIFA to Vote on Israel Soccer Ban

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has decided to include a plea for suspending Israel on the agenda of the executive of world soccer's governing body on May 3, according to reports over the last two days. In the last month several Arab soccer bodies have asked to have Israel ostracized because of the conflict with the Palestinians.

The Saudi news agency (SNA) on Sunday reported that Blatter sent a letter to the head of the Saudi FA, Sultan Bin Fahd Abdul Aziz, in which he said: "The matter of the suspension of the Israeli FA because of the country's actions against the Palestinian population is an issue we will have to consider seriously at our executive meeting in Zurich." Sources at FIFA headquarters Monday confirmed the issue would be discussed in Zurich on May 3.

Last month the Saudis sent a letter to FIFA on behalf of the Arab Football Union in which they called on Blatter "to protect the interests of the Palestinian FA - a full member of FIFA, which has been harmed by Israeli actions." Jordan, Kuwait, Syria, Lebanon and Oman added their names to the letter.

Blatter's move is clearly connected with his bid for re-election in a vote on the eve of the World Cup finals in Seoul on May 29. Blatter's standing as the most important functionary in the world's most important sport has taken a severe knock lately following allegations of corruption and mismanagement.

The balance of power in the committee appears to suggest the proposal has only a slim chance of being adopted. Apart from Blatter, there are eight European members of the committee, three of whom are vice presidents. All of them, except perhaps Belgium's Michel D'Hooghe, are expected to vote against.

UEFA president Lennart Johansson and Italian Antonio Matarrese are long-standing friends of Israel, as is Scotland's David Will. All of them will adopt the UEFA line which invariably opposes FIFA and its boss, Blatter. South Korea's Chung Mong-Joon, Julio Grondona, the president of the Argentina FA, and CONCACAF president Jack Warner are also not expected to support the proposal.

Jacob Erel, the chairman of UEFA's tournament committee who works out of Switzerland, warned that Israel would have to do some work to ensure the motion is defeated. "Even if there is only a slim chance that the move to suspend Israel is adopted, it is important to be prepared and to work hard to persuade the delegates on a personal level," he said. "It was not so long ago we saw how unlikely but politically-loaded votes went against Israel. Usually UEFA makes a special effort to oppose political dictates, so we should expect most of the European delegates on the committee to vote against. So will others, but nothing can be left to chance. It is imperative to work hard on each and every member of the committee in order to ensure their vote," Erel said.

Israel Football Association chairman Gavri Levy sent an urgent personal letter to Blatter on Monday and also asked for a meeting as soon as possible before the committee convenes. "We will act swiftly and decisively and I hope that it will all come to nothing, but in the disgusting world in which we live anything is possible," he said.