Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused world football’s governing body FIFA of “tarnishing the beautiful game” by allowing “games on stolen land”.
In a report published on Sunday, HRW said that FIFA was legitimizing the building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank—considered illegal under international law—and was sponsoring business activity that supports the settlements.
The New York-based body urged FIFA to force six Israeli football clubs based in settlements in the West Bank to relocate to occupied territories or be banned from competitions recognized by football’s governing body.
The six clubs in question are located in the West Bank and play in the lower Israeli leagues—Beitar Givat Ze’ev, Beitar Ironi Ariel, Ironi Yehuda, Beitar Ironi Maale Adumim and Hapoel Bik’at Hayarden.
The report follows an online petition that has gained more than 150,000 signatures, calling for FIFA official Tokyo Sexwale—who is heading up FIFA’s investigation into the issue—to ban settlement clubs from FIFA-recognized competitions.
More than 60 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) also sent an open letter to FIFA President Gianni Infantino earlier in September, calling for the settlement clubs to be relocated or excluded from the Israeli Football Association (IFA).
FIFA’s rulebook states that football clubs that are a member of one football association may not play on the territory of another football association without the other association’s permission. The Palestinian Football Association has been recognized by FIFA since 1998.
“By holding games on stolen land, FIFA is tarnishing the beautiful game of football,” said Sari Bashi, ‘Israel’ and Palestine country director at HRW.