A Middle East world cup to help calm tensions and bring about cooperation

October 13, 2021



[Note by Tom Gross]

Earlier this week I met FIFA president Gianni Infantino (photo above). Infantino took over from the allegedly corrupt former FIFA president Sepp Blatter and is trying to clean up the sport.

We discussed next year's football (soccer) World Cup in Qatar. He told me (and others) that in future it would be good if Israel could jointly host the World Cup with the UAE and other countries in the region as part of the Abraham Accords, the normalization deals brokered by the Trump administration which Israel signed last year at the White House with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.

I mentioned to Mr. Infantino that some years prior to the Abraham Accords I had written a piece for The Guardian suggesting that Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and Egypt should jointly host the World Cup as a means to advance peace.

Infantino seemed very interested in the idea and positive about a future World Cup - the planet's biggest sporting or cultural event - being co-hosted by Israel.

For those interested, below is my 2014 Guardian piece. (It was also translated into Hebrew and published in Haaretz's weekend supplement.)

Of course, Qatar's hosting of next year's World Cup now seems a fait accompli. But giving the opportunity for the Palestinians to host some future world cup matches with Israel, the UAE and others - while seeming far-fetched - is not an impossibility if approached imaginatively.



A modest proposal: Qatar could win by letting Gaza host the World Cup

* Handing over the tournament voluntarily would allow the emirate to save face and play a lead role in bringing the Middle East together

By Tom Gross
The Guardian
December 1, 2014


The controversy surrounding the decision to allow Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup, seems only to keep growing. Sunday brought revelations of a dossier of new allegations. There's the allegedly corrupt means by which Qatar is rumoured to have "bought" the tournament, the deaths of more than 2,000 migrant workers who have toiled in slave-like conditions and, of course, Qatar's weather. The tournament is to be held in summer when temperatures routinely soar above 40 degrees centigrade, posing risks to the players as well as to millions of visiting fans.

Many people feel Qatar should not host the tournament. But how to bring this about with Qatar's consent, without the emirate losing face - such an important consideration in the Arab world - and bringing multiple legal challenges?

Here's one idea: Qatar should take the high ground by announcing that it will heed calls by an outgoing Fifa official for the tournament to be moved to other Arab lands. It should give the World Cup to Gaza. And Qatar should pay for it too.

The idea is not as far-fetched as it may seem. Gaza's key problem is not money, but rule by militant Islamism, combined with hopelessness. Indeed, Gaza has received billions in aid over the years - but its corrupt Hamas rulers have never shared this properly with the population. The Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, among others, flies around in a Qatari-provided private jet. Recently Forbes rated Hamas "the second richest terrorist group in the world" - poorer than Isis but considerably richer than the Taliban and other groups.

As long as Hamas maintains its grip on the territory Israel will respond with force. So how to prevent the next Gaza war? For the first time in history almost the entire Arab world backed Israel - albeit tacitly - in last summer's campaign against Hamas. The one exception was Qatar (as well as non-Arab regimes in Turkey and Iran).

And consider this. Football is almost a secular religion for millions of people throughout the world. I know from my own visits there that Gaza is no exception. (Readers may have noticed from photos during the recent conflict how many Gazans were wearing the shirts of leading European teams.)

What other force is great enough to pull Gazans from the lure of Hamas, restore a sense of pride and purpose, create thousands of jobs, and direct billions of dollars into the territory - to be used to transform the strip into a prime Mediterranean tourist hub? Hamas would, of course, object but football is such a powerful force in Gazan society that it would be hard even for its leadership to justify to its own people its continued focus on jihadi activities.

Such an idea may sound implausible at first, but only if you disregard other historical examples of the healing power of football. For example, the "Miracle of Berne" in 1954 when West Germany won the World Cup, a victory that played a role in reviving the country and accelerating its economic recovery. "In the days after the game," Uli Hesse, the respected German journalist, wrote, "the country celebrated like seldom before and never since."

Gaza is a small territory, but so is Qatar, whose population is smaller than Gaza's. And if Gaza is too small to host all the matches, why not also allow Ramallah, Cairo and even Tel Aviv to host a few. The 2022 final should be played in Gaza, of course, and Gazans could rejoice in this, after decades of perceived humiliation. I suspect Israelis - so long as security was not an issue - would welcome the idea with great enthusiasm. It would, one hopes, buy eight years of quiet, economic development and reconstruction in which the focus in Gaza could be taken off conflict with Israel and radical Islamism. An unusual idea? Perhaps. But can anyone think of a better one?


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