NEW YORK (Dec. 16)
Once again politics rears its ugly head and Israel is likely to suffer by the secret action taken recently in Guatemala by the World Cup Committee of the International Football Association (FIFA), at its annual meeting. The members of FIFA decided to keep Israel in the Asian group so far as the divisions are concerned in World Cup competition.
In order to soften the decision, the Committee, at the same time, revealed that any nation refusing to play against Israel on a home-away basis automatically would forfeit its games.
As a result of the Committee’s ukase, Israel’s soccer team will have to make the longest trips for competition among all the 102 national teams involved. By placing them in the Asian bracket instead of the European bracket, FIFA has managed to give the Israeli soccer team an itinerary whereby it will have to play North Korea, South Korea and Japan.
Geographically speaking, it is probably correct to place Israel in one of the Middle Eastern divisions which, obviously, includes several Arab nations. However, based on past events and situations it is virtually certain that any Arab team scheduled to play Israel will refuse to do so. Last year into the finals of the football tournament at the Asian Games in Teheran when both North Korea and Kuwait failed to show up for their matches against the Israelis.
At that time, the Asian Federation bowed to the wishes of the Arab League pressures, and Israel was then barred from competing in any future Asian Football Confederation tournaments.
The only solace in the whole matter is that with the inclusion of North Korea it will make it that much simpler for Israel to qualify for the 16 places in the finals of the World Cup Tournament which will be held in 1978 in Argentina.