Palestinian football chief firm on Israel’s FIFA suspension

Updated 07 May 2015

Palestinian football chief firm on Israel’s FIFA suspension

RAM, West Bank: The head of the Palestinian Football Association reinforced his call for Israel to be suspended from FIFA on Thursday, saying the Israeli Football Association was part of an “apartheid, racist government” that was damaging Palestinian soccer.
The PFA accuses Israel of obstructing its activities and restricting the movement of players between the Gaza Strip and the Israeli-occupied West Bank. It wants a vote on Israel’s suspension from FIFA at a congress on May 29.
“The Israeli federation is behaving as a part of the brutal, racist occupation,” Jibril Rajoub, a former politician who has headed the PFA since 2008, told reporters in the West Bank.
“The Israeli Football Association is not innocent ... The Israel FA has failed to take a stance against its government’s policy to hinder the development of Palestinian football.”
If FIFA were to suspend Israel, its teams and clubs would be barred from international events, including World Cup qualifications.
Although suspensions are not uncommon, FIFA has usually taken such action only when a government is deemed to have intervened in its soccer association’s affairs.
On Wednesday, Israel’s top soccer administrators met FIFA President Sepp Blatter in Zurich to try to avert the vote.
Afterwards, FIFA said Blatter had “reiterated his position that any member association that is fulfilling its statutory duties should not be suspended... This would also apply to the IFA as long as they fulfil such duties.”
The statement appeared to offer hope for the IFA, which has not been accused of violating FIFA statutes and argues that it cannot influence Israel’s security forces.
FIFA said it would host a meeting between IFA chairman Ofer Eini and Rajoub in the coming days. Rajoub said Blatter had called him urge him to meet his Israeli counterparts but he had not yet decided whether he would do so.
In the past, Blatter or his envoys have managed to broker compromises between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but this time Rajoub said he was not interested in a “private deal.”
“We are committed to the statues of FIFA, we are committed to the principles, but at the same time we are committed to go for the resolution in the congress of FIFA,” he said. “There is no compromise, there will be no private deal.”
As well as restrictions on the movement of players, Rajoub accuses Israel’s FA of turning a blind eye to racism against Arabs in Israeli football and says five Israeli league teams based on Jewish settlements built on occupied land should not be allowed to play.
The PFA has also complained about equipment ordered by the PFA being held up at Israeli customs. Israel says its actions are guided by security concerns.
In a letter to FIFA members, IFA chairman Eini urged them to reject the Palestinian proposal, saying it was “a flagrant move that seeks to mix politics with sport — something that is completely contrary to FIFA’s vision.”
The Palestinian proposal would need the approval of 75 percent of FIFA’s 209 member associations.
Israel is competing in the Euro 2016 qualifying event and its clubs will join European cup tournaments in July, when Israel is also due to host the European women’s under-19 championships. Suspension could force the event to be moved.
Two years ago, FIFA set up a task force, which included Blatter, the Israeli and Palestinian FA chiefs and the heads of the European and Asian confederations to address the Palestinian complaints.
Eini’s letter to FIFA members said that last year, Blatter appointed Cyprus FA president, Costakis Koutsokoumnis, to go to the region to gather information.
He wrote that Koutsokoumnis reported that the IFA was not involved in determining Israeli travel policy and that FIFA, together with the IFA and the PFA, should try to help guide Israeli security agencies’ procedures to ease the situation.

Saudi Arabia celebrates 20th year of first Olympic medal win

Updated 28 September 2020

Saudi Arabia celebrates 20th year of first Olympic medal win

  • Hadi Souan scooped silver in Sydney at 29; athlete says success was for whole nation

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s first Olympic medal win 20 years ago inspired a generation of athletes and was a catalyst for the development of sport, according to the president of the Kingdom’s Olympic committee.

Hadi Souan won silver in the 400m hurdles at the Sydney Games in 2000.

The accomplishment was one of many in a long and successful journey for the athlete, who became a board member of the Saudi Arabian Athletics Federation (SAAF), the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee (SAOC) Assembly, a member of the Olympic Council of Asia Athlete Commission, sports and events manager at Qiddiya Investment Company, a member of the Saudi Sports Arbitration Center, and a member of the SAOC’s International Relations Committee.

“Today we celebrate Souan’s achievement, which inspired a generation of Saudi athletes and was a catalyst for the development of sport in the Kingdom,” said the SAOC’s president, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal. “It gives me great pleasure to see sport thriving in Saudi Arabia. We are committed to ensuring that this trend continues and that the Kingdom’s next generation enjoys the benefits of participating in sport, both in Saudi Arabia and at major global sporting events.”

Souan started out as a footballer but took up athletics in PE class, winning second place in a school championship. He qualified to compete at the Kingdom level and went on to become a national team member in less than a year.

He started with the high jump, then decathlon and finally found himself taking on the 400m hurdles.

He trained under Egyptian coach Mohammed Thu Alfaqqar from 1991, under the Americans until 1994, and under 1968 Olympic gold medalist Lee Evans. But the best place Souan remembers training at was UCLA.

“It is a sport and artistic society indeed,” he said. “We spoke, ate, slept, and even relaxed for sport. These little things and the different sleeping habits here and there made me suffer a bit when I came back from the States, but we got used to it and I knew it made a difference in my lifestyle and mentality-wise.”

Souan also trained the European way in Paris under a Russian coach and France’s Amadou Dia Ba. “Hence I started to learn the difference between European and American schools,” he added. The US schools concentrated on endurance, while the French focused on speed.

He was grateful for the exposure to different cultures while training abroad with elite athletes, especially at a time when there was limited social awareness about the importance of sport.

“When I started training with US 400m hurdler Kevin Young, who clocked an Olympic record of 46.78 seconds at the 1992 Barcelona Games and which remains unbeaten until now, I felt that I could do what he is doing. I only need to be determined, disciplined, and committed and everything from there started to become imaginable. I started to see myself winning and when the time came and toward the end of the race I knew I was getting there but I wasn’t first. First place went to American Angelo Taylor who won in 47.50 seconds, while I did 47.53.”

He remembers the winning moment and never expected how the country would react to his achievement. It was overwhelming. 

He modestly said it was not his success alone, that it was a success for the whole nation and all of his team headed by the former SAAF president Prince Nawaf bin Mohammed, agent Emanuel Hudson, and coach John Smith. They all worked hard to create the right environment for him to deliver the medals.

“We were welcomed by the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, by the former president of General Presidency of Youth Welfare Prince Sultan bin Fahd, and everyone was happy and proud of what we did. I knew then that what I was fortunate to do was not simple at all and, luckily, was appreciated. I believe everyone started to look up for Saudis in athletics and watch out for similar future talents.”

The beauty of sport, he added, was its spirit and the values that were learned and developed through years of training, competing, winning and losing. 

“Although Taylor won first place we all, as a sports community, remain friends and also competed afterwards in several matches where he again took first place and I came second again. He came from a distance running race which allowed him to master his skills at the end of the 400m hurdles events, his approach was and still is just amazing.”

Souan won the silver medal aged 29 at his second Olympic appearance, in what he felt was perfect timing as he might not have been as successful at subsequent Games.

“Usually when you get to taste that level of achievement on a global scale you want more, but I knew that it was time to give back now and help my teammate and younger generations taste it at an early age.”

That’s how I got involved in the athletics federation and the Sports Ministry afterwards.”

He said that it did not matter how someone was built, as long as they had the willpower to work on their body and skills in order to become the best they could be in the sport that they liked. He added that parents had greater awareness, as did athletes, and wished that more Saudis could do what he could not.

Although Souan retired as an athlete at the age of 34, after competing in the 2006 Asian Games in Qatar, he was and still is a role model who keeps giving back to his country. Because of his passion for sports he was a physical education teacher and then supervisor at the Ministry of Education. 

“I always felt responsible to keep my record clean because I’ve seen how parents and students used to look up to me so, as an Olympian, I wanted to give a good example.”

In addition to the Olympic silver medal he won, with an Asian record of 47.53 seconds, Souan counts the 2001 Goodwill Games hurdles silver from Brisbane as his most prized possession. 

All told Souan has won 40 gold medals including one from the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, South Korea.