The Israeli embassy in Argentina confirmed Wednesday that Saturday night’s friendly match between the two national soccer teams, which had been scheduled to take place at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, had been cancelled, according to a TPS report.
Palestinian officials, including Jibril Rajoub, a former Palestinian Authority Preventive Security Force who now serves as head of the Palestinian Football Association, had called on Argentina to cancel the match and called on Palestinians to burn photos and T-shirts of forward Lionel Messi if the game if the star of the national team participated in the game.
TPS reported that the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires downplayed the incident, saying “relations between Argentina and the State of Israel will not hinge on a football game. Our democratic, pluralistic country (which is composed of Jewish, Muslim and Christian citizens) will always welcome Argentine sports stars.”
Responding to initial news of the cancellation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently on a three-day European tour aimed at persuading Germany, France and the United Kingdom to impose to tougher measures on Tehran, asked Argentine President Mauricio Macri to convince the national team to change their mind, but with no success.
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev who pushed to have the game moved to Jerusalem and invited “Messi to come to pray at the Western Wall” and accused the BDS movement of being behind decision to cancel the match. She expressed hopes Argentina would change its mind.
“A little while ago I was updated on the decision to cancel the game scheduled for this coming Saturday night. The Argentinians are asking forgiveness from the Israeli public because they understand that the decision is extreme. This is a decision stemming from threats to the life of the national team star Messi. The terror threats to his life were decisive for him,” Regev said, according to an INN report.
Regev showed pictures taken during the Argentinian team’s recent practices in Barcelona. “These are pictures of terrorist elements threatening the life of Messi, his family and members of the Argentinian national team,” she said, adding that “this is a new-old terror that frightens, deters and intimidates athletes.”
“This is the same terrorism that led to the murder of the fallen in Munich. Then they were murderers from Black September, today it is Jibril Rajoub who continues with the terror,” Regev added, pointing a finger at the chairman of the Palestinian Football Association.
INN reported that Regev claimed that transferring the game to Jerusalem is not the reason why Argentina will not come to Israel. “There is no greater lie than that. The Argentinians never objected to holding the game in Jerusalem. The game was conceived because of Messi’s desire to come to Jerusalem, kiss the Western Wall and visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher,” she said.
Even Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman expressed his disappointment to the decision of Argentinian football team, according to a TPS report.
“It is a shame that the soccer players from Argentina did not withstand the pressure of those who hate Israel, whose only goal is to violate our basic right to self-defense. We will not surrender to a group of anti-Semites who support terrorism,” he wrote on Twitter.
Despite Hebrew-language reports that the Argentine team had decided several days ago not to play in Jerusalem and had not even prepared a schedule, a source closely involved with planning the visit told TPS that everything had been set.
“We had a schedule; everything was ready. The Argentine team had booked their flight. They canceled because they surrendered to terror and incitement.
“This is a violation of the (peaceful message that sports are supposed to promote). We are very disappointed. Anyone who surrenders to terror eventually gets it at home,” the source said.
The schedule also included practice sessions with Jewish, Christian and Muslim children to promote dialogue.
Update: The Israel Football Association is expected to demand NIS 2.2 million (15,395,262 Argentine Pesos, US $617,543) in damages from the Asociación del Fútbol Argentino. The Argentine soccer federation has navigated a financial and administrative crisis for years, with charges of corruption that have reportedly cost the association millions of dollars. Last year, team captain Messi – whose $667,00o weekly salary playing for Barcelona was accompanied by a $59 million signing bonus last year and reportedly includes an $800 million buyout clause if the team breaks the contract before it expires in 2021 – reportedly paid the salaries for the team’s security detail after the guards went six months without being paid from the Asociación del Fútbol.