Tense talks on Israel expulsion vote at FIFA

A former top FIFA official who left after criticising its president Sepp Blatter has warned that big sponsors will start leaving world football's governing body unless major reforms are undertaken (AFP Photo/Michael Buholzer)

Zurich (AFP) - FIFA leaders on Tuesday stepped up efforts to head off a vote called by Palestine to expel Israel from football's world body claiming unfair treatment of its players.

"Negotiations are still going on but they are very complicated," a top FIFA official told AFP.

"There may not be a solution until the final hours," added the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has held talks with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in a bid to prevent the politically charged vote at a FIFA congress on Friday.

FIFA would not discuss the talks. But a spokeswoman for the governing body said "only Palestine can withdraw the demand to suspend Israel from the agenda."

Palestinian Football Association president Jibril Rajoub has so far refused to withdraw the motion that will require the backing of three quarters of the 209 member federations to pass.

"Our asks are clear, just and fair: Freedom of movement, end of racism and expulsion of all teams from illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine competing in the Israeli league.” Rajoub said Monday as he left for Zurich.

He said that if the conditions are not met "we will push for our resolution to be voted in the FIFA congress to suspend the Israeli Football Association."

Palestine, which has been a FIFA member since 1998, wants world football's governing body to bar Israel from international competition over its restrictions on the movement of Palestinian players.

It also opposes the participation in the Israeli championships of five clubs located in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Blatter told the FIFA executive committee on Monday about his trip to the Middle East last week to meet Netanyahu and Abbas. But he did not report a deal.

Blatter's main talks have been with Rajoub and Israel Football Association President Ofer Eini who says restrictions on Palestinian players are a security question.

"The FIFA president will report to the Congress on this dossier later this week with the aim of providing a framework for strengthening the development of football in the region," said a FIFA statement.

Blatter strongly opposes the vote saying it is bringing politics into football and that Israel has not breached FIFA's statutes.

"The executive underlined that a FIFA member association should not be suspended if it has not violated the FIFA statutes," said the statement.