Syrian regime-linked committee suspends retired football star after 'Israeli-coached' match
The Syrian Olympic Committee announced on Monday that it was suspending retired footballer Firas Al-Khatib from the body after he played in a match where the opposing team was coached by an Israeli.
On the eve of Saturday's FIFA Arab Cup 2021 final, Khatib took part in a friendly match between the FIFA Arab Legends and the FIFA World Legends, made up of two teams of retired players. Khatib's team, the Arab Legends, beat the World Legends on penalties after the game ended with a 5-5 draw.
The World Legends were coached by Avram Grant, an Israeli football manager who formerly coached Chelsea, West Ham, and Israel's national team.
The Syrian Olympic Committee, which is affiliated with the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad, said that Khatib had gone against "the values and principles of the committee and violated national principles".
The 38-year-old was barred from the committee and the Syrian General Sports Federation.
Khatib is the Syrian national football team’s all-time top goalscorer, with 36 goals to his name.
Originally from Homs, he boycotted the national team between 2012 and 2017, following brutal airstrikes on civilians in the city by the Syrian regime. He rejoined the national football team in 2017, reconciling with the regime and meeting with Bashar al-Assad. He retired from football in 2019.
In a statement posted to Facebook, Khatib said he was surprised at the committee's decision to suspend him.
He said he had not known that Grant would be participating in the match.
The committee made the decision to suspend him from the committee without inviting him to explain his position, he added.
Friday's match uniform featured the flags of FIFA member countries from around the world. Some of the Arab players, including Khatib, covered up the Israeli flag on their jerseys.