FIFA head, joining US push, wants more Palestinian football pitches

FIFA's President Gianni Infantino says that football can be part of a US-led economic plan for the Middle East (AFP Photo/Nelson Almeida)

Manama (AFP) - The head of FIFA promised Wednesday to build more football pitches in the Palestinian territories as he joined a US-led economic workshop in Bahrain on drawing investment.

Gianni Infantino, president of world football's governing body, took part in the "Peace to Prosperity" conference led by President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner despite a boycott by the Palestinian Authority which fears a bid to impose a political solution through money.

"Let's give, to be very concrete as well, some hope, some dreams," Infantino said.

Joining a panel led by Thomas Barrack, an Arab-American real estate investor and vocal backer of Trump, Infantino said the Palestinian territories had fewer than 25 proper football pitches for a population of five million people.

"We will do our part at FIFA," he said.

"Let's do something tangible and concrete that people can see, and when kids play football, first they smile and, secondly, they don't do other things."

Jibril Rajoub, president of the Palestinian Football Association, wrote to Infantino on Tuesday urging him not to attend the Manama event.

"I beseech you to reconsider your decision, for the sake of millions of Palestinians who trust you and respect the organisation of which you are deservedly President," said the English-language letter, seen by AFP.

"How can the President of the highest governing body of football, and the most outspoken person on the importance of separating politics from sports, agree to participate in a political workshop whose objective is to determine the future of Palestine in the absence of Palestinians?" Rajoub wrote.

Infantino said Wednesday that the next World Cup, in Qatar in 2022, could improve international perceptions of the Arab world.

It will "show the world what Arabs are like -- welcoming, open, great food, incredible history, tradition", said the Italian, whose wife is Lebanese.

"I think that football can play, certainly, a little role but an important one," he said.

Kushner, a White House adviser, unveiled a plan at the workshop that calls for $50 billion in investment over 10 years and the creation of one million Palestinian jobs in what he billed as the "Opportunity of the Century".

But he said acceptance of the framework was a pre-requisite for a deal on hot-button political issues.