Israel-UAE soccer federations sign development agreement

Top Israeli team Maccabi Haifa and UAE’s Al-Ain FC team to hold friendly match in Abu Dhabi.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

The peace accord between Israel and the United Arab Emirates got a boost Tuesday when the two countries’ soccer federations signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to develop the sport together, the Emirates’ WAM news agency reported.

The news of the accord came after the weekend announcement that one of Israel’s top professional teams, Maccabi Haifa, will travel to Dubai for an exhibition “friendly” match against the UAE’s Al-Ain Football Club in Abu Dhabi.

Al-Ain is the most decorated team in UAE history and has won the local championship 13 times, reaching the final of the Club World Cup in 2018 where it lost to European champions Real Madrid.

Maccabi Haifa owner Yaakov Shachar said his team would attend the exhibition match dubbed the “Game of Peace” in the UAE.

“We informed them that we would be happy to play against them in Abu Dhabi and host them in our city, Haifa. Their positive and happy response has just been received and the date for the game will be set later, according to the two clubs’ schedules,” Shachar said.

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The MOU marks the first sports-related agreement between an Arab country and Israel and will include holding joint workshops to market and promote the game and develop the technical aspects of soccer in the two countries.

The MOU was signed Monday in a video conference with Abdulla Naser Al Junaibi, chairman of the UAE Pro League, and Erez Halfon, chairman of the Israeli Professional Football League.

“[Soccer] has always been the most important and fast path to bring people together. These are the cooperation pillars we aim at through this agreement, through which we hope to achieve gains for both parties,” Al Junaibi said. “We also aim to organize joint activities between the two leagues and to assure cooperation to reinforce the economic, commercial, technological and technical sides between the two leagues.”

Halfon recognized the importance of soccer as a bridge builder between the countries.

“[Soccer] is the most popular sport not only in the world, but also in both Israel and the United Arab Emirates,” Halfon said. “The passion for football transcends religions, nations and races, and we have the ability to use it as a tool to build relationships and break down walls between people, of all genders, and of all races.”

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“It seems that there’s more that unites us than divides us,” Halfon said, adding that Israel is hoping for more agreements with other countries in the region.

Shortly after the two countries signed the historic Abraham Accords and established diplomatic relations, Arab-Israeli soccer player Dia Saba signed with the UAE’s Al-Nasser Football Club.

While pro soccer has been Israel’s number one sport since before the founding of the modern state in 1948, the UAE Pro League was only founded in 2008.