ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The friendly match is canceled between the Argentine and Israeli national football teams ahead of the 2018 World Cup, the Argentine Football Association (AFA) announced in an official statement on Wednesday.
During a press conference in Barcelona, Spain, where the team is currently training, the chairman of the AFA said the players would fly directly to Russia.
The match was scheduled to be played on June 9 at the Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, one week ahead of the prestigious tournament.
However, a lobby known as the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has been campaigning for months to cancel the game, arguing that “there is nothing ‘friendly’ about military occupation and apartheid.”
The BDS calls for an end to Israeli attacks on Palestinians and equal rights for Palestinian citizens.
The movement also claimed the football match was “politicized” after the game was originally scheduled to be played in Tel Aviv then later moved to Haifa before the venue in Jerusalem was selected.
Demonstrations were organized in Barcelona, Buenos Aires, and Ramallah ahead of the controversial match, where protestors burned the Argentine flags and hurled threats at captain Lionel Messi.
On Tuesday, the Israeli embassy in Argentina announced the “suspension” of Saturday’s match, citing “threats and provocations” against Messi.
Israeli officials, meanwhile, have slammed Palestinians for the cancelation of the sold-out footballing event.
“It’s a shame that Argentina’s footballing nobility did not withstand the pressure from Israeli-hating inciters,” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman wrote in a tweet on Wednesday.
He added that the goal of those opposed to the match in Jerusalem was “to strike at our basic right to self-defense and to bring about the destruction of Israel.”
חבל שאבירי הכדורגל מארגנטינה לא עמדו בלחץ המסיתים שונאי ישראל שמטרתם היחידה לפגוע בזכות הבסיסית שלנו להגנה עצמית ולהביא להשמדת ישראל. לא נכנע בפני חבורת אנטישמים תומכי טרור— אביגדור ליברמן (@AvigdorLiberman) June 6, 2018
On the other hand, the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) applauded Argentina’s decision to scrap the game, arguing sport should not “be a tool for politicians and for political extortion.”
“What happened…is a red card from everybody to the Israelis,” PFA head Jibril Rajoub remarked during a press conference. Next to him stood a sign reading: “From Palestine, thank you Messi.”
Rajoub had notably called on demonstrators to “target Messi” and “burn his shirt and his picture and to abandon him.”
The 2018 FIFA World Cup will take place between June 14 and July 15 with 32 teams from five different confederations competing.
Argentina is in a group with Iceland, Croatia, and Nigeria. They play their first match against Iceland on June 16.