Palestine football chief calls on Atletico Madrid to cancel Jerusalem game

The match will be played against Beitar Jerusalem, a team whose fans have been punished for anti-Arab racism

FILE PHOTO: Jibril Al Rajoub, President of Palestinian Football Association, addresses the 65th FIFA Congress in Zurich, Switzerland, May 29, 2015. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich/File Photo
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The chief of the Palestine Football Association has condemned Spanish football team Atletico Madrid for a planned game in Jerusalem against a team known for its ultra-nationalist fan base.

Jibril Rajoub sent letters to the European and Spanish football associations to demand that the team, major rivals of neighbours Real Madrid, cancel the game in Jerusalem, the contested city that both Israelis and Palestinians lay claim to.

Beitar Jerusalem, whose fans include Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, is a team known for never signing an Arab player. It once signed two Muslim players from Chechnya but fans regularly booed them and walked out of the stadium when one of them scored.

Its band of hardcore fans, named ‘La Familia’, is known for conducting attacks against Arabs and for chants such as ‘Death to Mohammed’.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and has developed a network of Jewish settlements across the territory that Palestinians seek as the capital of any future state.

“We are not against playing in Israel, but not in occupied Jerusalem,” the letter said, according to a post on the football association’s Facebook page late Thursday.

He said there were many Atletico Madrid fans in the Palestinian territories who were shocked they would play against Beitar, who he labelled “high level racists.”

Last year, Argentina cancelled a friendly international match against Israel after a concerted campaign of pressure against the football association for the plan to play in Jerusalem.

The sold-out match was to take place at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, home to Beitar. The stadium is built on top of a destroyed Palestinian village, Al Malha.

Mr Rajoub was sanctioned by Fifa after the cancellation because he had called on fans to burns shirts bearing the name of Argentina’s biggest star, Lionel Messi.