The Palestinian Football Association (“PFA”) has threatened to go to the Court for Sports Arbitration (“CAS”) unless FIFA agrees to take action against Israel over clubs based in the “illegally occupied” territory of the West Bank. Our previous reporting on CAS, its role and jurisdiction can be found here.
The dispute concerns six Israeli football clubs playing in Israel’s lower division which are based on the West Bank. According to FIFA rules, clubs affiliated with one member association cannot play on the territory of another member association without the latter’s or FIFA’s consent. Palestine claims that this territory is occupied under international law and that the clubs are playing there without the permission of the PFA, recognized by FIFA since 1998.
To solve this issue, FIFA established a special monitoring committee for Israel-Palestine to consider the complaints against Israeli FA. Last week, the committee met for seven hours in Zurich to discuss the issue but failed to reach any decision, prompting PFA President Jibril Rajoub to suggest that the matter may need to be resolved by the CAS. Speaking after Tuesday’s meeting, PFA President Rajoub said Israeli officials had not come up with any serious argument. “I don’t think there will be any agreement, if they are not going forward, we can go to the CAS” he said.
The next meeting to solve the matter is expected at the meeting of FIFA’s council in January. This is not the first time CAS may have to deal with highly sensitive and political issues.
This raises another question: is CAS an appropriate forum and is international arbitration the method for resolving disputes regarding geopolitical issues? It is certainly not intended to resolve such disputes. However, it is not the first time the CAS has been faced with sensitive political issues. We already reported on Serbia’s challenge of the Kosovo admission to UEFA here. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has also arisen in a sports context when Scottish Club Glasgow Celtic was fined by UEFA for displaying Palestinian flags. A Serbia-Albania football match during the qualification for the World Cup eventually had to be decided by the CAS. The way things are heading, it does not look too promising for the future of sports arbitration as a “neutral forum” for the settlement of sport disputes.