A source at Argentina's football federation on Tuesday confirmed the cancellation of the worldwide friendly scheduled to be played Saturday at Teddy Kollek Stadium in Jerusalem. Regev suggested "there's only one story here -the threats to the life of Messi's family".
Although the stadium that was slated to host the match is in west Jerusalem, Rajoub had complained that it is situated in a neighbourhood built on the site of a former Palestinian village destroyed during the war surrounding Israel's creation in 1948. Argentina is one of the most popular national teams among Israelis and fans had been scrambling to get a chance to see Messi in person.
Claudio Tapia, president of the AFA, apologised for cancelling the match but said the safety of the players was at stake.
"[This was] nothing against the Israeli community, it is nothing against the Jewish community, rather the opposite, and I think and I would like that, from this moment, everyone considers my decision as a contribution to world peace", he added. "We want to focus on what is really important and which is before us", a spokesman for the country's football federation told AFP in Barcelona, where the national team has been training ahead of the start of the tournament in Russia on June 14.
Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev, with the backing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, insisted that the match must go ahead in Jerusalem, to emphasize its status as Israel's capital. "The politicisation of the Argentinean move worries me greatly", he said. Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon said he preferred Haifa's Sammy Ofer Stadium, which is newer and better than Jerusalem's Teddy Stadium and would bring in more revenue and involve less security costs.
The boycott movement welcomed the cancellation. "These are real threats".
There is no evidence that Messi ever made this statement.
"We are confronting a football terror from the Palestinian Football Association and its president (Rajoub)", he said, accusing them of "threatening football players (against) coming to Israel".
Israeli organizers of the game, which was set to be held in Jerusalem on Saturday, contend that Qatar must have promised to repay on behalf of Argentina the $2 million it received from Israel for the scrapped match, as Argentina's Football Association seemed unconcerned with the debt despite facing financial difficulties.
On Wednesday, Rajoub thanked the Argentines for "following their conscience".
At a press conference in Ramallah on Wednesday he appeared next to a giant picture of himself with Messi and a sign reading: "From Palestine, thank you Messi". Some Israeli officials accusedArgentina'sLionel Messi and other players of giving in to terrorism. "Messi would have been the first to lose if the game had taken place", Rajoub said. "We will not yield before a pack of anti-Semitic terrorist supporters". I was hoping that the Israeli side would keep politics away from sports.
For her part, Regev responded: "I say, this was no disaster".
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