Creating new perspectives since 2009

Russia’s war in Ukraine even exposes football’s hypocrisy

March 1, 2022 at 9:10 am

An Atalanta fan holds up a Ukraine flag bearing the words No War during the Serie A match between Atalanta BC and UC Sampdoria at Gewiss Stadium on 28 February 2022 in Bergamo, Italy. [Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images]

Fighting continues across Ukraine as Russian forces get closer to the capital, Kyiv. Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv, is also being bombed.

As the first round of high-level talks between Kyiv and Moscow took place on the Ukraine-Belarus border on Monday without any agreement except on continuing to talk, Russian artillery bombarded residential neighbourhoods, killing and wounding hundreds of people, and displacing many more.

According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, leading NATO members hd made “aggressive statements” while imposing hard-hitting financial sanctions against him and his country. In response, he has apparently ordered Russia’s nuclear deterrent forces to be on high alert in case of an attack by NATO, which has been mobilising its forces in member states close to Russia and Ukraine.

My fellow Palestinians from the besieged Gaza Strip can empathise with Ukrainian civilians in traumatic situations across the country. We have faced five major Israeli military offensives over the past sixteen years; thousands of Palestinian civilians have been killed and wounded, and the infrastructure has been devastated.

It was a huge boost to our morale to see anti-Israel and pro-Palestine solidarity demonstrations around the world every time Israeli forces attacked us. We know very well, therefore, how the people of Ukraine will appreciate the swell of support for them around the globe.

READ: Keep your eyes on Palestine

Nevertheless, such solidarity has exposed the hypocrisy and double standards of the international community, especially governments and official bodies. Even the hypocrisy of world football’s governing body is clear for all to see now that FIFA has “suspended Russia’s national and club teams from all competitions until further notice.” Europe’s governing body for the sport, UEFA, has done likewise.

The earlier move by FIFA to order Russia to play matches without its flag and anthem at neutral venues was met with outrage. Many European nations and clubs said that it did not go far enough. Poland said that its national team would not play against Russia next month under such circumstances. That match will not take place in any case.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine rise on the shared border - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine rise on the shared border – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

It is now extremely pertinent to ask FIFA, UEFA and the national football authorities and clubs where they have been hiding when it comes to taking such decisive action against Israel. Why is the Israeli national team and its football clubs allowed to play in FIFA and UEFA tournaments despite the apartheid state’s war crimes and crimes against humanity? Why were the Israeli teams not suspended when the state was dropping tons of explosives on unarmed civilians in Gaza, hospitals, schools, mosques, cemeteries, football stadiums, electricity and water networks and telecommunications infrastructure?

Why have FIFA and UEFA turned a blind eye to the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank? Why have the sport’s major governing bodies not acted against Israel when the colonial-occupation state prevented the Palestine national team from travelling and training together; and when promising footballers were killed and wounded by Israeli bombs and bullets?

FIFA claims that it does not want to get embroiled in political situations. This is a cop-out. Politics affects every aspect of life, and sport is no different. The participation of Israel’s national and club teams in international tournaments sends a strong message that state violence is normal and can be overlooked. This is unacceptable.

READ: The crisis in Ukraine exposes the hypocrisy of Israel and its Zionist allies 

In 2009, Egyptian footballer Mohammad Abu Trika lifted his shirt to reveal and message on his t-shirt underneath. “Sympathise With Gaza” was his way to celebrate a goal against Sudan in an African Cup match. FIFA warned him officially, and insisted that it has a strict ban on such “political” statements.

Now, however, we see footballers around the world showing their solidarity with Ukraine. They have been praised by FIFA, not warned about mixing politics with sport.

International sporting bodies such as FIFA and UEFA have to abandon such hypocrisy and deal with all “political” situations equally. Only then can justice be served fairly.

The fact that Ukraine offended the Palestinians and their legitimate rights when it recognised occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and said that it was ready to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city rubs salt into our wounds. If FIFA can ban Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, it can surely ban Israel for its war crimes, crimes against humanity and colonial-occupation of Palestine. If not, why not?

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.