A crazy week for football got a little crazier when the Palestine Football Association unexpectedly announced a major scheduling change.
Instead of opening 2018 FIFA World Cup/2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers on home soil the game was due to be played in Saudi Arabia due to “exceptional circumstances” that the Kingdom was facing.
More after the jump…
The PFA’s press release did not shed any light what those exceptional circumstances might refer to. In any case, causes of force majeure usually result in matches being moved away from the countries affected by those circumstances. It’s hard to think that Jeddah, or any place in Saudi Arabia, for that matter is safer for visitors than Al-Ram. After all, Saudi Arabia is waging war on Yemen on its wester border and is faced with a threat from ISIS who bombed Shia mosques in the country’s east.
Also not clear is whether this change represented a switch in fixtures. After the draw was announced in April, Singapore and Japan agreed to switch the dates of their home games due to a scheduling conflict with the Southeast Asian Games.
Earlier today, FIFA updated its website to reflect the change in venue but neither the AFC or FIFA have come out with a detailed explanation as to what happened and what will change going forward.
As a result, Palestinian fans feel aggrieved with claims of bribery and foul play being touted over various sites and fan forums.
In fact the change was so sudden and swift that the press release was posted on the PFA website before the players were informed.
One source from inside the PFA has told me that the decision to move the match came from the Saudis who threatened to take away Palestine’s right to host matches if this game wasn’t moved. That said, it seems that giving into these demands only sets a dangerous precedent. After all, if Saudi Arabia won’t play in Palestine why should the UAE or Malaysia, both of whom also have no official relations with Israel?
To make matters even more confusing, PFA President Jibril Rajoub has gone on the record stating that moving the match was “the wrong decision.”