Last Friday, the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) has confirmed that the Saudi national team will play the Palestinians in the Martyr Faisal Housseini Stadium in Ramallah on the 15th of October as part of the Asian World Cup qualifiers for 2022. By making this decision, the SAFF has answered the Palestinian Football Federation’s request that the game be played on Palestinian Territories.
By stressing that the game should be played on the West Bank, the PFF wanted to ensure that the Palestinian team would not be deprived of the opportunity to play the game at home among its own fans. According to Jibril Rajoub, the head of the PFF, the decision should be deemed as nothing less than ‘historical’.
This turn of events unmistakably marks a change in policy for Saudi Arabia, since matches against Palestina would normally be organized in third countries. Many Arab nations have traditionally refused to play in the West Bank, because it requires them to apply for Israeli permits. In the eyes of Israel and its allies, the nation of Palestine simply doesn’t exist, so the very acknowledgement by Saudi Arabia of its presence and its capabilities to host international events is a political stance in and of itself.
“At the request of the brothers in the Palestinian federation, the Saudi Football Federation has agreed to play the team’s first match in the Asian qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup against Palestine… on October 15… in Ramallah,” – the Saudi Sports Authority on Twitter.
In the last couple of years, some Arab countries, such as Iraq, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have broken the exclusion and played on Palestine Territories. Others, like Egypt and Lebanon, still refuse.
Last Thursday, the Moroccon team ‘Raja Casablanca’ also played its first match on Palestinian grounds against Hilal Al-Quds, which they won with 2 – 0. However, according to Morocco’s embassy in Jordan, 28 Moroccon fans were denied access to the West Bank by the IOF.