Palestinian soccer chief: I’ll appeal Messi incitement ban

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — The head of Palestinian soccer said Saturday he will appeal FIFA’s year-long ban on him for inciting fans against Argentine superstar Lionel Messi as part of his campaign to stop Argentina’s national team from playing in Israel.

Jibril Rajoub told The Associated Press he was consulting with his lawyers and will “use every possible opportunity” to fight the decision. He spoke by phone from China and said he was planning a press conference upon his return to Ramallah later this week.

Rajoub’s Palestine Football Association has lashed out at the decision by international soccer’s ruling body as biased and “absurd.”

FIFA said Jibril Rajoub “incited hatred and violence” by calling on soccer fans to target the Argentinian Football Association and burn jerseys and pictures of Lionel Messi.

Argentina eventually abandoned the trip to Jerusalem for a game against Israel in June. Argentina Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said at the time players felt “totally attacked, violated” after images emerged of the team’s white and sky-blue striped jerseys stained with red paint resembling blood.

FIFA imposed the minimum ban allowed in its disciplinary code for inciting hatred or violence. It prevents Rajoub from attending matches or engaging with the media at or near stadiums on match days for a year. Rajoub, who is also head of the Palestinian Olympic Committee, was fined 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,300).

The punishment marks an embarrassing blow for Rajoub, who has long lobbied FIFA to sanction Israel for what he called its restriction of movement of Palestinian players.

Israel has rejected the Palestinian campaign as an attempt to politicize sports and has cited security concerns as the reason behind the occasional restrictions placed on Palestinian players, particularly in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Rajoub’s organization accused FIFA of bowing to pressure of “interest groups” and Jewish West Bank settlers who sought to punish Rajoub for his comments.