Riyadh: Saudi Arabia’s national football team will play Palestine in the occupied Palestinian territories on October 15, the kingdom’s sports authority said Friday.
The game, due to take place in the West Bank city of Ramallah, would mark a change in policy for the Gulf state, which has previously played matches against Palestine in third countries.
“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 said on Twitter.
The decision is aimed at ensuring the Palestinian team is “not deprived the chance to play at home and among its fans like other countries,” it added.
What is the significance of the move?
Arab clubs and national teams have historically refused to play in the West Bank, where the Palestinian national team plays, as it required them to apply for Israeli entry permits.
This was seen as breaching a decades-long Arab boycott of the Jewish state over its treatment of the Palestinians.
But in recent years either clubs or national teams from Iraq, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have all visited.
Others, including Egypt and Lebanon, still refuse.
Four years ago a similar game was ultimately played in Jordan after pressure on the Saudis not to enter the West Bank.
Speaking Thursday, the head of the Palestinian football association Jibril Rajoub announced the Saudi team would arrive on October 13.
The game to be played at the Al-Ram Stadium, which is recognised by FIFA, would not breach boycott attempts, he said.
Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967 and any person seeking to visit Palestinian cities must obtain an Israeli permit.
Saudi Arabia does not officially recognise Israel and has regularly thrown its support behind the Palestinians.