During my interview with Palestinian martyr journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in November 2021, I was asked several questions as part of our interview, but this one stood out as most noteworthy of them all: What does Palestine's FIFA membership mean to us as Palestinians? In our conversation regarding this membership, I raised a few critical issues. Nevertheless, I kept thinking about this question and decided it would be a good idea to write a post about it.
Palestine joined FIFA on June 8, 1998, after numerous attempts since 1946. The first attempt was when the (Arab) Palestinian Sports Federation (founded in 1931 and reestablished in 1944) applied to join FIFA in 1946. It competed with the Jewish-dominated Palestine Football Association (founded in 1928), which represented Palestine in the International Football Federation (FIFA). The attempt failed because according to FIFA’s statute, no country has the right to be presented by to federations. A second attempt was made in 1951, a third in 1962, a fourth in 1978, and a fifth in 1989. In May 1995, the Palestinian Football Association got provisional FIFA membership (two years after the Oslo Accords).
The admission of Palestine to FIFA was a significant victory for Palestinian sports and for the Palestinian people. There is no doubt that the Oslo Accords were a positive factor in accelerating Palestine's admission to FIFA. However, we still accept this fact as a fact that must be dealt with, even though we have reservations about the Oslo Accords themselves. In fact, Palestinian sports suffered marginalization in the diaspora
Apart from the role that the Oslo Accords played in accelerating Palestine's admission, several other factors have also played an important role in making this possible. For several decades, Palestinians struggled relentlessly to join FIFA. It was their goal to convince FIFA that the Palestinian sports movement was dispersed and diverged after 1948. Despite this, Palestinian football kept growing. When it was in Gaza, the Palestinian Football Association (founded in 1962) brought together most Palestinian sports clubs. Later, through its operation in Lebanon (re-established in 1971), it brought together Palestinian athletic clubs that had been operating in Lebanon. Moreover, Palestinian football has been proving its efficiency at the local, Arab, and international levels in recent years, which has contributed to its growth and recognition.
The Arab support that has always been provided to Palestine by Arab countries and sports organizations must also not be forgotten. Using their leverage and every opportunity, they intended to convince FIFA officials that Palestine has the right to be a member of this organization. For instance, in 1978, Iraq, in response to FIFA's demands addressed to the Palestinian Football Association, agreed to host the PFA on its territory based on FIFA's demands. In addition, the PFA was offered a stadium of its own.
Palestine's accession to FIFA in 1998 marked the beginning of a greater and more visible manifestation of Palestinian ideology in sports on an international stage. By joining this organization, Palestinians were able to express themselves on an international level their identity, opinions, and suffering under the occupation and expose its arbitrary practices on the international arena. It is Palestine's name, its flag, and its people that cause Israel to be more worried than anything else. Despite the Oslo Accords, Israel has always feared Palestinian sports and the rise of Palestine at the local, Arab, and international levels. It is worth mentioning that
To raise the competencies of coaches and administrators, FIFA organized training and refresher courses for them.
This membership has added to the PFA's responsibilities and improved its performance in both the Arab as well as international arenas because of this membership.
In terms of women's football, FIFA has contributed to the development of women's teams all over the world through encouraging and providing support.
In the opinion of some, this membership could bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians. However, as we saw later, the differences between the Palestinian and Israeli federations deepened, especially regarding including the six settlement clubs in the West Bank in the Israeli Football Association, in addition to playing games in the settlements. As a result, the PFA at the FIFA conference in May 2016 issued a call for the expulsion of Israel from FIFA in response to this situation.