The Israeli team is currently holding its games in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. For most football fans, especially the young ones among us, the participation of our team, which geographically belongs to the Asian continent, is a matter of course. But that is far from true, and the death of former Football Association chairman Shaul Swirey on Thursday reminded us how difficult it was.
Israel has a unique world story, in which it belonged and operated as a member of football associations of three different continents – Asia, Oceania and Europe – something that has never happened and will probably never happen in the future. Since the Palestine Football Association was admitted to FIFA in 1928, on the recommendation of the Egyptian Football Association, Israel has been under the auspices of FIFA and has not been affiliated with any international association, in Asia or Europe. In 1934, in the World Cup qualifiers, we played against the Egyptian team from Africa. In the 1938 qualifiers we faced the Greek team from the European continent. After the declaration of independence and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, we were placed in Europe for the World Cup qualifiers, still under the auspices of FIFA.
Israel was looking for an identity. The Foreign Ministry sought to expand the connection with the countries of the Far East, and the inclusion of Israel in the Asian continent through football was then a seemingly correct move. In 1956, Israel was admitted to the Asian Football Federation, and in August of that year, the football team participated for the first time in the Asian Cup tournament in Hong Kong.
FIFA, together with UEFA, continued to share with Israel the World Cup qualifiers against European teams, despite its affiliation with the Asian continent. It was convenient for us to hold the stick at both ends, mainly because many Muslim countries from Asia refused to hold meetings and created problems for FIFA. Israel from the continent 17 countries voted for the expulsion of Israel from Asia, 13 countries voted for its continuation, including Iran, 6 countries abstained.
FIFA Brazilian president Joao Valanz promised not to abandon Israel. FIFA insisted on keeping us on the Asian continent in the 1976 Montreal qualifiers, from where coach David Schweizer took Israel to the Olympics. Meanwhile, the pursuit and actions to be part of the UEFA were determined, after one last attempt to bring Israel back to Asia failed. Benefit until the Olympics.
The passivity of the UEFA led to the decision of the President of the Asian Federation, the Malaysian friend of Israel Tonko Abdul Rahman, to resign. In 1976, Israel was accepted as a first step to the European Intertoto Games. UEFA, under the influence of the Soviet bloc, returned in the negative to integrate the Israeli teams in the circle of various European Cup games.
In the mid-80s we became part of Oceania, alongside the New Zealand and Australian teams, and with the addition of Taiwan. From 1985 to 1989, the Israeli team participated in the World Cup and Olympics qualifiers as part of Oceania. At the same time, the efforts of the chairman of the Football Association, Shaul Sviri, and his deputy, and his successor, Azrikam Milchen, have gone on a campaign of persuasion in almost all European countries.
The land was trained precisely through the young ages. In Israel, international winter tournaments were held with the participation of most European teams. The meetings with the heads of the associations that came to Israel helped to further support Israel in joining Europe and leaving Oceania. Prime Minister Shimon Peres met with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Foreign Minister Jeffrey Howe to advance the move. President Haim Herzog, a native of Northern Ireland, also traveled to persuade his native country. Milchen met in London with Brett Milichip of England and Hermann Neuberger, chairman of the German Football Association, who assured his support of the will of “just” Israel. The beginning of the Soviet disintegration process helped Milchen fly to Moscow and meet with the chairman Kolosov, who promised to help with the issue in stages.
In 1990, at the UEFA Congress in Valletta, Malta, the Swedish Narat Johansson was elected chairman of the UEFA with the support of Israel by Swiri and a friend of the Swede, the general manager of the Football Association Jacob Erel. Johansson declared that one of his goals is to integrate Israel as a full member In the UEFA. During Kolosov’s visit to Israel, he visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem with Milchen. Kolosov sweetened a secret with Milchen, saying that in order to get Israel to join the UEFA, it is necessary to overcome the special clause in the bylaws, which prohibits another continent from being accepted as a new member after being registered in another continental federation. The door to Israel.
Israel has already been admitted to Europe at this stage. Our football teams started to integrate in the European factories and the team was placed for the 1994 World Cup qualifiers, but a full company was still needed. In 1992, after quiet activity with FIFA and UEFA, a committee headed by Milicip, a reputable jurist, was tasked with finding a statutory solution that would allow the move. Erel drafted the special clause, which coincided with the UEFA regulations. In consultation with Sef Blatter, FIFA’s secretary general who turned out to be a true friend of Israel, they agreed on the exact wording of the clause. The new section amended by the two associations was approved. The amendment was presented at a special UEFA congress held in 1993 in Monterey, Switzerland. It was unanimously approved, and at the end of the meeting it was decided to transfer the confirmation of Israel’s acceptance to Europe to the Vienna Congress 1994.
All this happened in parallel with the Oslo Accords, but it should be noted that there was no connection between the events. In 1994, the Israeli flag was finally hoisted in Vienna alongside the flags of other European countries, 18 years after its expulsion from Asia. It was a move of ups and downs, hopes and disappointments, broken promises and politics that played a crucial role. He succeeded and evoked a wave of joy in the Football Association. After the approval, Milchen, then already chairman of the association, rose to thank Johansson and the other representatives for their support in the efforts to get Israel to Europe.
Israel’s participation in Asia is a story unfamiliar to today’s footballers. Each departure was a matter of long days, sometimes even several weeks – flights via the United States, Thailand and Europe. Our professional progress did not come from there, nor from Oceania. We may not have reached significant achievements at the national team level, but Europe is our anchor. Without Swiri, Milchen and huge help from Israeli diplomacy, FIFA and UEFA, this would not have happened.