Israel-Hamas war: Football cannot resist being political – until it becomes too challenging | UK News
Trying to be uplifting while sounding fanciful.
It took until the seventh day of mourning for FIFA President Gianni Infantino to offer any condolences.
And when he did it was to claim football can play a role in ending hostilities between the Israelis and Hamas as a “vehicle for peace”.
That will seem a distant proposition for the Israelis grieving more than 1,300 victims of the Hamas massacres on their territory last Saturday.
Or for those in Gaza feeling the full force of the retaliation – with Israeli strikes to eradicate the threat of a group designated a terror organisation by the UK government.
Follow live: Israel launches Gaza ground missions
Football Association president Prince William, through palace aides, did say there was a “right of self-defence” by Israel.
But football has struggled with how to show compassion while delicately assessing remarks issued on the bloodiest escalation in decades in a long-running conflict.
And football’s voice matters because the sport wants to matter with an impact beyond sport.
But football bodies suggesting a moral equivalence when decrying Israeli and Hamas actions has provoked anger among Jewish leaders in England and sports leaders in Israel.
The Premier League said it “strongly condemns the horrific and brutal acts of violence against innocent civilians” with a reference to both Israel and Gaza.
Chelsea broke ranks from the unified position by reposting the league statement with their own, highlighting sadness at the “huge loss of life following last weekend’s attacks on Israel”.
The west London club added: “We stand with the Jewish community in London and around the world in the face of the rising tide of antisemitism, which we have long campaigned against.”
It was the lack of recognition of antisemitic undertones to the Hamas rampage that angered Rabbi Alex Goldberg.
He resigned as the Football Association’s Faith in Football group chair after the governing body failed to specifically honour the “victims of the worst single atrocity committed against Jewish targets since the Shoah” – the Hebrew word for the Holocaust.
Rabbi Goldberg told Sky News: “There’s no moral equivalence. There’s acts of violence that have led again into war.”
Those concerns were shared by Lord Mann, the government’s independent anti-racism adviser, after the FA failed to light the Wembley arch in the blue and white of Israel.
He said the inconsistency with commemorations of terror attacks from Turkey to France and Belgium politicised the FA.
Lord Mann told Sky News: “British citizens were murdered in Israel by Hamas terrorists and they’ve chosen not to recognise it and I find that depressingly sad.
“And there’s a lot of anger out there in the Jewish community and the message is Jews don’t count in football.”
But the FA has had to navigate the complexities of issuing a public statement on enmity far removed from football while seemingly avoiding offence.
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They will be keenly aware many Premier League players have shown solidarity very visibly with the Palestinian cause against Israel’s military might – with resulting club unease.
They will be aware of the backlash felt by Arsenal and Ukraine player Oleksandr Zinchenko for backing Israel after the Hamas slaughter – recognising the struggle his homeland has defending territory.
And it is English football throwing its full corporate support behind Ukraine against Russia last year that has left it compromised with a more delicate, cautious position on the Israel-Hamas war.
Football cannot resist being political when the power of its platform and societal benefits can be extolled.
Until it becomes too challenging and fraught.
When you talk up football’s ability to end wars and heal societies then go silent for a week after such trauma, the eventual response can expose the timidity of leaders – appearing deficient and ultimately more divisive.