How FIFA's red card for Palestine has revealed the hypocrisy of football

How FIFA's red card for Palestine sparked a global fan feud
5 min read
24 November, 2023

The international governing body of football, FIFA, is turning a blind eye to the atrocities occurring in Gaza. 

Across Europe's major leagues, including the UK's Premier League, Palestinian flags, pro-Palestine banners, and Palestinian keffiyehs are banned. Ibrahim Khadra, a Palestinian football journalist for Bein Sports, had his keffiyeh removed during Arsenal's 1-0 victory over Manchester City.

"FIFA’s silence has exposed their double standards and hypocrisy. Their humanitarian campaigns against racism and for equality have all been for show. If football stands together, it must stand with Palestine"

After October 7, the English Premier League released a statement about the unfolding events in Gaza, in which they decided to adopt a neutral statement and offer a minute's silence for both Israeli and Palestinian victims in Gaza. 

Chelsea Football Club, however, would show its true colours. In a statement released on its social media, Chelsea solely condemned Hamas and kept silent about the thousands killed and wounded by Israeli forces in Gaza.

Many Arab Chelsea fans and pro-Palestinian supporters were upset about their club's statement and accused the two-time UEFA Champions League winners of standing with the oppressors. "I'm no longer a Chelsea fan," famed supporter Mnawer Al-Arafa wrote on Twitter/X. "I hate hypocrisy and bias. This club has no humanity at all."

Gaza-based Chelsea fan and doctor Khalid Abu-Owaimer was shocked by his club's statement. He told The New Arab: "We know that Chelsea has a large fan base in Israel, but I never imaged this to happen. They are supporting the Israeli genocide against us. It's disgraceful."

Mahmoud Abed, who lives in Gaza, believed this showed the hypocrisy of corporate, sanitised football. "Their statement seems to be unbiased, but it is otherwise," he explained to The New Arab

FIFA's silent condemnation of Palestinian voices has been in stark contrast to the support shown to Ukraine after Russia's invasion. Premier League stadiums were decorated with Ukrainian flags, adorned with no-war banners, and one-minute silences in each game. 

Players were also given preferential treatment. Arsenal's Ukrainian left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko received countless messages of support from fans and was even handed the captain's armband against Everton on the war's one year anniversary. 

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In contrast, when players posted messages of support for Palestine, like Arsenal's Egyptian midfielder Mohammad El Neny, they have been immediately condemned. 

In an unprecedented move by a football club, Anwar El Ghazi's contract was terminated by his German club Mainz for posting pro-Palestinian messages on social media. Despite now being without a club, the Dutch player announced he would continue advocating for the oppressed whatever the cost.

On the other side of the political divide, Real Madrid's Thibaut Courtois posted a story on his Instagram supporting Israel, as well as Oleksandr Zinchenko, who did the same. Both players received a wave of criticism from fans, however were not banned or warned for their political views.

The debate on whether footballing bodies get involved in politics is constant. However, FIFA's decision to ban the Russian Football Association from all European and international football tournaments seems to expose the inherent hypocrisy at the heart of the body. Israel's occupation of Palestine for over 75 years, has never warranted a ban from FIFA. In spite of Israel's war crimes, Israeli football can continue as normal. 

Israel is now preparing for its next 2024 European qualifier. The team is training as usual, even if travelling outside Israel to play its games.

Meanwhile, Palestinian players are being killed in Gaza and the West Bank, football in Palestine has come to a standstill, and stadiums have been targeted by Israeli forces.

Gaza's Al-Yarmook Stadium was bombed. Rasheed Daboor, the Palestinian national team and Beit Hanoon player was killed. Other players, like Mahmood Al-Reefi and Nazee Al-Nashash who play for Al-Jlaa and Al-Buraij, were also killed by Israeli air strikes. Rafah Youth's Mohammad Al-Rakhawei has been badly injured by an Israeli missile. 

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As a result, the Palestinian national team does not even have enough players to play for their next AFC World Cup qualifiers. They will try to avoid the 2007 scenario against Singapore when a similar fate happened and the Palestinian Football Federation lodged an appeal to reschedule the match. Rather than receiving a positive response from FIFA, they were shocked to learn that FIFA refused and gave a 3-0 victory to Singapore. 

"Why haven't they banned them [Israel]," says Palestinian manager Sobhi Mabrook, whose brother was killed by Israel in the current aggression. "Israel has done to us a million times worse than what Russia has done to Ukraine. Is that not enough to ban them?"

FIFA’s silence has exposed their double standards and hypocrisy. Their humanitarian campaigns against racism and for equality have all been for show. If football stands together, it must stand with Palestine.

Abubaker Abed is a Palestinian journalist, writer, and translator from Deir al-Balah Refugee Camp in Gaz, interested in sports and languages.

Follow him on Twitter/X: @AbubakerAbedW