Written by Tushar Bhaduri |
Published: June 7, 2018 12:32:35 am
Why the match became controversial?
The friendly between Argentina and Israel, the two-time world champions’ last warm-up game was originally scheduled for Haifa, a northern port city, for Saturday, but was later shifted to the Teddy Kollek Stadium in West Jerusalem. Most countries don’t recognise Jerusalem as Israeli territory as its eastern part was taken by the Jewish state in the 1967 Middle East War. Israel regards the city as its “eternal and undivided” capital while Palestinians see the East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Palestinians, among them millions of Argentina and Lionel Messi fans, considered moving the match as a political decision in the backdrop of the United States moving its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, ostensibly aimed at giving legitimacy to Israel’s claim to Jerusalem.
What was the Palestinian response?
Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Football Association, termed the change of venue a motivated move, a part of Israel’s 70th Independence Day celebrations. Sports “should be kept away from politics,” he stressed Rajoub, claiming Israel was using football to deflect attention from its actions in the territory.
He added that there was huge support for South American football teams, and Argentina in particular, and that connection would be jeopardised, if they played in Jerusalem. He called on Palestinians to burn Messi’s posters and t-shirts if the match went ahead. He claimed the match was to take place in a stadium “built on one of the at least 418 Palestinian villages destroyed by Israel 70 years ago, Al Malha.”
There were protests on Palestinian streets as well, with people urging Messi not to play in an occupied land and “stand up for human rights.” There were pro-Palestine protestors at the training venue of the Argentine team in Barcelona.
What triggered the Argentine pullout?
Argentina, aiming for their first World Cup in 32 years, could do without a distraction just before the tournament. There must have been security concerns as well. There were threats made to Argentine players and their families, including alleged pictures of dead children.
“What has happened in the last 72 hours, the actions, the threats that have occurred have led us to take the decision not to travel,” Claudio Tapa, head of the Argentine Football Association, said. “(We) apologise. I would like everyone to take this decision as a contribution to world peace.”
Terrorist group IS had circulated images of a beheaded Messi on the internet, as part of its threat to target the upcoming World Cup in Russia. The decision may also have been prompted by ongoing violence along the Israeli-Gaza border, that have claimed more than 115 Palestinians lives with nearly 3,700 more wounded, according to Palestinian estimates. Losing a big chunk of international fan following for a friendly, which didn’t mean much in the bigger picture, wasn’t considered worthwhile. “In the end, they’ve done right thing, and this is behind us,” Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain told ESPN. “Health and common sense come first. We felt that it wasn’t right to go.”
How did Isreal react?
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Argentine President Mauricio Macri and urged him to intervene, to no avail. Defence minister Avigdor Lieberman blamed “Israeli-hating inciters” and “anti-Semitic terrorist supporters”.
However, some Israeli opposition leaders lamented the “spectacular own goal” scored by the government when it insisted on moving the match to Jerusalem.
They even offered to play the match in Barcelona, but that seems far-fetched.
The Israel Football Association said it will file a complaint to FIFA against its Palestinian counterpart for allegedly pressuring Argentinian players and staff into cancelling the friendly. Sports minister Miri Regev rejected that moving the match to Jerusalem is what resulted in the match’s cancellation. She claimed the Argentinians had not objected and that Messi himself had wanted to visit sacred Christian and Jewish sites in the holy city.
How did Palestinian take to the pullout?
“What happened… is a red card from the rest of the world to Israelis,” Rajoub told a news conference on Wednesday. “The Argentine national team realised that Israel is making political use of it and so decided to cancel the game. It is a victory of “ehics and values” in sport. The press conference in Ramallah, West Bank, was held under a picture of Rajoub with the Argentine legend with the caption “From Palestine, thank you Messi.”
The news of the cancellation was welcomed with cheers in Gaza.