Blatter fears Israel vote could set dangerous precedent

ZURICH (Reuters) - FIFA president Sepp Blatter is worried that a dangerous precedent will be set if Palestine goes ahead and asks for a vote to suspend Israel at the annual Congress of soccer's governing body on May 29.

Blatter, who is standing for re-election at the Congress, said the dispute was "the biggest challenge" facing him as he comes to the end of his current mandate, and added that Israel had not broken any FIFA statutes.

The Palestine Football Association (PFA) has accused Israel of hampering its activities and restricting the movement of players between the Gaza Strip and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Israel cites security concerns for the restrictions it imposes and the Israeli FA has argued that it has no control over security forces.

FIFA has been trying to broker a settlement for two years and Blatter confirmed that he would travel to the region again next week and meet Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Blatter said that if the Palestine proposal was approved, other nations could use football to air political grievances.

"This could open the doors, where would we go? We want to be in sport and not in politics, we could set a very dangerous precedent," he told reporters at FIFA headquarters.

"It's like an orchestra... where, at the general assembly, you can come and say they don't like the drummer."

But Blatter said he was optimistic of finding a last-ditch compromise.

"I'm hopeful and positive that, at the end of the day, there might be a solution before the Congress,” he said.

"I want to try to find a solution to avoid us going to a vote in a FIFA Congress and speak about the dismissal or suspension of a federation, this is not the sporting spirit."

He added: "Palestine is expecting from the government of Israel a gesture, especially when it comes to the control of the circulation of persons in the checkpoints and specifically when foreign teams come in."

Blatter said another Palestinian grievance was the charge of tax on the importation of sporting equipment.

Palestine would need three quarters of the votes from among FIFA’s 209 national associations for its motion to pass. A suspension would mean that Israel, which is affiliated to UEFA, could no longer compete in the Euro 2016 qualifiers and its clubs would be barred from European competition.

"I wouldn't like to go into a vote to say that one association shall be suspended, if there is nothing against the statutes of FIFA and we have to make clear there is nothing (by Israel) against the statutes of FIFA."

"When FIFA stops football, then everyone is unhappy. To suspend a federation, you must make an investigation, you cannot just say I want to.

"This is my number one challenge, actually, from now until the election. It's a very delicate problem."

(Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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