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FIFA: Mohammed Assaf invitation to perform in World Cup opening ceremony ‘still stands’ (Updated)

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815-2Last week there were reports that Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf had been banned from performing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. However, FIFA public relations manager Sascha Rhyner responded to my inquiry for more information by saying the invite still stands:

Dear Annie,

FIFA can confirm that, as per the invitation of the FIFA President, Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf has been invited to perform at the official opening ceremony of the 2014 FIFA Congress on 10 June in Sao Paulo as part of the FIFA World Cup events and that FIFA’s commitment to invite Mr Assaf to perform in Brazil has always been firm.

Kind regards,

Sascha Rhyner


Very exciting, but there would seem to be more to the story. We’ll continue to follow up to get to the bottom of last week’s confusion.

Update: Ma’an News reports: Assaf invited to sing at FIFA Congress ahead of World Cup

Arab Idol winner Mohammad Assaf was invited to sing at the opening ceremony of the 64th FIFA Congress in Brazil, two days before start of the World Cup……

“I apologize for any misunderstanding but we ensure our commitment to Assaf’s invitation to perform in Brazil,” he [FIFA president Sepp Blatter] added.

The opening ceremony the FIFA congress will be held on June 10, while the World Cup’s opening ceremony is scheduled for June 12.


The controversy, therefore, is not closed.

(Previous Mohammed Assaf coverage on Mondoweiss available here

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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29 Responses

  1. Justpassingby
    February 17, 2014, 12:22 pm

    Good job Annie, I like your efforts in contacting, reaching out etc.

    • annie
      February 17, 2014, 2:57 pm

      thanks jpb, i’m a huge fan of Mohammed Assaf. huge. it was driving me crazy. but i reached out for professional reasons also, of course. ;)

      • Walid
        February 17, 2014, 3:48 pm

        Thanks for getting the confirmation of the good news, Annie. Still more answers needed about Assaf’s Wattanyiya TV-recorded interview in which he said that Platininum records had been advised by FIFA that it was excusing itself (from letting Assaf perform) and that it had subsequently passed this information to al-Arabiya TV that broadcast it; someone else here besides me said that he had seen the same video of the interview before it disappeared . If some party (like Platinum) passed the wrong information to Assaf, it could explain why that video was withdrawn by Wattaniya.

        In Assaf’s recorded statement by Wattanyia, he also said that the Interior Ministry was blocking his permission to perform at FIFA’s opening. Since there appears to be separate Interior Ministers for Gaza and for Ramallah, it wasn’t clear to which Assaf was referring. He hinted that Hamas was not letting him perform in Gaza, so there is a good chance he was talking about the Gaza Interior Minister in the Hamas Government.

        By the time the full story is known, there are going to be a few embarrassed people that were behind this, but Assaf will not be one them because he doesn’t appear to have anything to do with this story.

      • Susan A
        Susan A
        February 17, 2014, 8:23 pm

        Walid: When I saw that interview I thought that the Hamas’ Interior Ministry weren’t allowing Assaf to sing in Gaza, as opposed to the Ministry of Culture, which said that he could. Perhaps I’m mistaken and it was about FIFA. That’s how I understood the subtitles anyway….

      • Walid
        February 18, 2014, 2:01 am

        Susan, in the interview, he said he obtained approval to sing at FIFA from the Ministry of Culture but that he still needed the Interior Ministry’s approval, but when the Culture minster’s OK was sent to the Interior’s, something there happened under outside influences that caused the ministry to block its approval. Assaf was not clear if he was referring to the approval to sing at FIFA or to sing in Gaza, which he hadn’t be allowed to do and he sort of intertwined both issues in the interview. He finished that train of thought by saying he wished the people of Gaza would ask the authorities there to help him with his problem.

        On second thought, I think he was probably talking about the approval to sing in Gaza and being prevented by Hamas since singing in Brazil shouldn’t have anything to do with the Gaza Interior Ministry. This appeared to confuse a lot of people because everyone instinctively pointed to Israel without getting to the bottom of the story. Can’t blame people for that as Israel has a track record of dirty deeds and Netanyahu already complained to Kerry about Assaf singing a Palestinian patriotic song in Hebron when the Barcelona was there.

      • annie
        February 18, 2014, 4:58 pm

        hi walid, again,i am aware of what he said in the interview wrt hamas, the culture vs interior ministry and reported it in my earlier report. i also linked to the video. i’m sure lots of people saw the video but i can’t speculate further on why it was pulled.

        If some party (like Platinum) passed the wrong information to Assaf, it could explain why that video was withdrawn by Wattaniya.

        or if some party (like FIFA) passed the wrong information to platinum it too could explain why that video was withdrawn. or, it could simply be the info was correct when he said it and then it changed. there are endless possibilities.

        Assaf was not clear if he was referring to the approval to sing at FIFA or to sing in Gaza, which he hadn’t be allowed to do and he sort of intertwined both issues in the interview.

        ok, from the information i gathered, including my earlier link to al-hayat (first embed underneath the khan younis photo..) this was not my impression. so when i reached out to personal and professional contacts in ramallah with contacts to assaf for clarity regarding who that may have been who influenced FIFA and if he had any more info, the answer i got back the next day was that assaf said that this is all that he knows wrt FIFA (just what we reported- states or other actors unknown interceded), the same thing he said in the video. at that time, which was before i contacted FIFA, and because it never occurred to me or any reviews i read about the interview, his reference was to hamas or the gaza concerts or any ‘confusion’ regarding what he was referencing i did not ask further about hamas nor did any of my contacts mention hamas wrt the FIFA performance.

        i did not mention this in my earlier report because nothing i found out in my several conversation brought forth more information, but there definitely was speculation. some quite certain. but we don’t publish that kind of speculation unless it’s on the record. but i do think my contacts are solid. which says to me if assaf had anymore information about who interceded (which i find doubtful) he was not revealing it and it was, in fact, his understanding FIFA had canceled his performance due to this interception..

        again, no one, not one person mentioned hamas or the non approved concerts in Gaza during any of these several conversations.

      • Susan A
        Susan A
        February 17, 2014, 8:19 pm

        :) But of course! :) Thanks Annie! Let’s hope HE knows about this

      • Susan A
        Susan A
        February 18, 2014, 7:47 am

        Thanks, Walid. Yeah, I’m sure he was talking about Gaza, re: the ministries, because they wouldn’t let him do a mass, public concert there immediately after having won Arab Idol, although the Ministry of Culture had kind of ‘given in’ and had said positive things about Assaf on FB, given that the public in Gaza were ignoring what the ministries were saying and where giving full-throttled, public, vocal support. I think he’d really like to do a public concert in Gaza, like he’s done in other areas of Palestine, but the ‘interior’ won’t allow it. Thanks for that; knowing only about twenty words of Arabic I’m somewhat limited and have to rely on the subtitles.

  2. RudyM
    February 17, 2014, 12:25 pm

    This is the first World Cup I’ve ever cared about (but if I had to pick a sport to follow I guess futbol would have the most appeal thanks to its internationalism).

  3. American
    February 17, 2014, 12:44 pm

    Hooyah!…. for this confirmation regardless. ..good work.

  4. jsinton
    February 17, 2014, 12:45 pm

    It would be a fool’s errand to ban Mr. Assaf. Talk about fuel for the boycott?

  5. W.Jones
    February 17, 2014, 12:45 pm

    Shakira announced that she would not be playing there as a result, but the PR person says….?


    • Maximus Decimus Meridius
      Maximus Decimus Meridius
      February 17, 2014, 2:36 pm

      Was there ever any confirmation from Shakira or her spokesperson that she had refused to perform in solidarity with Assaf? I don’t think there was. I’m not even sure she herself had been confirmed to perform in the first place.

      • annie
        February 17, 2014, 3:50 pm

        I’m not even sure she herself had been confirmed to perform in the first place.

        and that was the same thing we heard about assaf in the last thread too.

      • Maximus Decimus Meridius
        Maximus Decimus Meridius
        February 17, 2014, 3:56 pm

        Which doesn’t change the fact that – correct me if I’m wrong – there is still no confirmation from Shakira’s camp that she refused to perform at the WC in solidarity with Assaf.

      • ckg
        February 17, 2014, 8:42 pm

        @Maximus Unless Shakira’s camp confirms her intent to have refused to perform in solidarity with Assaf, we should think of her as the BDS-ignoring, Peres-loving figure that she has previously shown herself to be. And thank you, Annie, for your diligence.

  6. sama_sld
    February 17, 2014, 3:51 pm

    That’s very good, we love Assaf so much & wish all the best & success for him, we are also very proud of him

  7. RudyM
    February 17, 2014, 4:45 pm

    Shakira just put out an album (or is close to doing so). If she is really involved in all of this, she might prefer to handle things behind the scenes, especially when she is promoting a new album.

  8. just
    February 17, 2014, 5:23 pm

    Yay Annie!!! Now down to the nitty gritty.

    Who is/was blocking this amazing songbird named Assaf from flying to FIFA and bringing his voice/story to the world? I cannot wait for him to gain even more exposure and fans!

    sama– you have much to be proud of! I think millions of people love and respect Mohammed Assaf. I wish all the best and success to him, and millions of Palestinians as well. He’s opened the door to appreciation of the haunting beauty of a people, their language, their music, their history……..and their resolve, steely determination and forbearance.

  9. kalithea
    February 17, 2014, 11:35 pm

    Great news! Can’t wait to watch. I hope he wears the keffiyeh like he wore it on Arab Idol. Let’s not forget that in 2010 just under half the world’s population watched the World Cup at some moment and one-third of the world’s population, around 2.2 billion people watched at least 20 minutes of it. Almost everyone recognizes the keffiyeh from when Arafat wore it as a symbol of Palestinian nationalism and resistance to the Occupation. So what better way to draw the world’s attention even for a few minutes to the plight of Palestinians than to wear a symbol that so many people recognize. Not many people know him yet. How else will everyone know he’s Palestinian? By wearing the keffiyeh, people will recognize it and in a matter of minutes at least a billion people will make a connection with the Palestinian people.

    It would be nice to say: Scarlett attempted to sell a product of Apartheid to 100 million, but Assaf will bring the long-awaited dream of Palestinians to 1 billion! Eat that! you Zionists!

  10. Susan A
    Susan A
    February 18, 2014, 8:15 am

    Talking of Football: The Occupiers have never wanted Palestine’s footballers to be seen to be doing well and have done everything to ensure that they cannot progress. Here’s another example of that cruelty
    On 31st January, two young men, two cousins, Adam Abduraouf Halabiyeh (17) and Johar Nasser Halabiyeh (20)** were returning from football training in Abu Dis Youth Club to their house in Abu Dis, which is not far from the Israeli military camp.

    On their way home, they were attacked viciously by Israeli soldiers. First, they were shot in the legs with live ammunition. Then the soldiers set dogs on them to maul their hands and legs. The young men were taken to the Israeli military camp where once again, they were badly beaten, and again on their legs. At this point, Johar’s knees were broken.

    The television programme (link below) reports that Adam was first shot with three bullets and Johar tried to carry him: he was then shot in his own hand and then had another ten bullets to his legs. Then the dogs attacked them when they were on the ground before the soldiers got close to them. Adam reported that one of the soldiers hit him on the back of his head with his gun, which caused a gash in his head. This later had seven stitches, The soldier then jumped on Adam’s leg and broke his knee. They were taken in a military vehicle to the military camp where they were held for several hours. Here Johar’s knee was broken, after he told the soldiers that they were football players.

    The TV interviewer said Adam, ‘So you were throwing stones and they shot you?’ Adam said that this was not the story: they did not do anything to the soldiers, the incident happened when they were on their way home from football training.—%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%B6%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%81%D9%84%D8%B3%D8%B7%D9%8A%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AC%D9%87-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%B5-.html#comment%7Clist

    From the military camp, they were taken badly wounded to Hadasa Hospital in Jerusalem, but their families were not allowed to visit them. Adam’s mother is from Ukraine and she (unlike many Palestinians from Abu Dis) was able to get to the hospital. But when she said she wanted to see her son, she was threatened with deportation from the country if she persisted: she couldn’t see him.

    They were in that hospital for four days. After that, they were released: the army had never had any charge against them in the first place.

    The families took them to a hospital in Ramallah which did not have the facilities to treat their bad injuries; they are now in hospital in Jordan. The fear is that though they were well and playing football before this incident, they may never play again.

    Note, Adam is a school student still and Johar is the brother of Baraa, one of the children who visited Camden with CADFA last summer.

    CADFA is sending its strongest wishes to these young men, hoping for a swift recovery. We are taking this issue up as strongly as we can with our representatives here and considering the best course of action by young people and sports players in support of young people in our twinned town who have been so badly treated. We welcome your support; please look out for further activity about this.

    • annie
      February 18, 2014, 5:53 pm

      thanks susan, believe me i found out about all of this while researching the story, including the fact that Feb 3rd (4 days after the footballers were shot) Rajoub, chairman of the Palestinian Football Association, met with Israeli counterpart Avi Luzon and FIFA President Sepp Blatter in Zurich.

      iow, after the two footballers were disabled Rajoub and the PA asked for the expulsion of Israel from FIFA . and the same day ma’an reports Rajoub condemned the shooting and said that “Israeli brutality against them emphasizes the occupation’s insistence on destroying Palestinian sport” and demanded israel
      s removal from the FIFA. however, i can’t prove the events are in relation to assaf, at all. but the timing is auspicious. we reporting the demand under the rubric of ‘other FIFA news” but this is a long time coming. i don’t think it’s any coincidence soldiers are shooting Palestinian footballers preventing them from ever playing, not after they imprisoned very successful soccer player Mahmoud Sarsak for no reason and only released him after he starved himself to the point he will probably never compete again. i mean, obviously they do not want palestinians champions.

      anyway. i always look at timelines, and when i see something like this, i connect mentally.

  11. Susan A
    Susan A
    February 18, 2014, 8:16 am

    Sorry, the link doesn’t seem to have worked

  12. Janik17
    February 18, 2014, 7:15 pm

    Annie, I suggest you carefully re-read your missive from FIFA. The country and the city are right, but the stated event is not the World Cup Opening Ceremony. And the date is wrong as well…

    • annie
      February 18, 2014, 7:51 pm

      yes i became aware they were different shortly thereafter janik. a few hrs after this was published an AFP article was published in french, spanish and portuguese.,e268627f02144410VgnCLD2000000dc6eb0aRCRD.html

      and then ma’an just published this a few hrs ago:

      but we still think something is afoot. this is why we wrote Very exciting, but there would seem to be more to the story. We’ll continue to follow up to get to the bottom of last week’s confusion.

      which we will. AFP wrote The controversy, therefore, is not closed.

      • kalithea
        February 19, 2014, 6:43 pm

        Feels to me like they’re giving him some kind of consolation substitute gig so it doesn’t look like they’re discriminating. They’re trying to save face. Assaf wouldn’t say they invited him to perform at the World Cup if they didn’t.

        It’s obvious that certain parties don’t want him to get the exposure that performing at the World Cup would certainly give him. FIFA Congress is no World Cup. If they did rescind the World Cup offer; it’s blatant discrimination and it goes against FIFA’s disciplinary code. The FIFA Congress invitation looks like it’s meant to appease him, shut him up and keep the whole affair from becoming too public.

        If it’s true they’ve rescinded the World Cup invitation for this lesser gig, they shouldn’t be able to get away with this. This is very wrong.

        “Discrimination of any kind against a Country, private person or group of people on account of race, skin colour, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, wealth, birth or any other status, sexual orientation or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion. Article 3”

        Against discrimination and “misunderstanding” my ass! Hope you can get to the bottom of this. Good luck.

  13. kalithea
    February 19, 2014, 7:37 pm

    Here’s my question: Did FIFA rescind Assaf’s invitation to perform at the World Cup and are they pretending now that it was all a big “misunderstanding” to manipulate him into accepting something less to save their face? By stating that they apologize for the “misunderstanding”, are they also ready to publicly deny they ever extended him an invitation to perform at the World Cup, or are they really apologizing for trying to pull the wool over his eyes so they can cover up what made them take back the original invitation and come out smelling like a rose?

    If it’s true they’ve done this, than this is discrimination and goes against everything FIFA pretends to stand for: fair play and non-discrimination. I believe Assaf when he stated he was banned from performing at the World Cup and I just can’t believe it’s all a “misunderstanding”. FIFA’s feet should be held to the fire on this, because this smells like discrimination.

    • Janik17
      February 20, 2014, 4:57 am

      The other question that sprang to mind is whether the FIFA Congress has ever had an opening ceremony before. If they hadn’t, then it would be obvious that this was a sop.
      However, a brief google shows that they have, and for me it looks a surprisingly big show (I say surprisingly because I’m a soccer fan and I had never heard of this previously):-
      One suspects it is going to be very hard to prove that Assaf’s original invitation was to the World Cup Opening Ceremony and not this. Its certain that that was what he understood it to be, but unless there is a strong paper/email trail FIFA’s ‘all a misunderstanding’ position will be very hard to disprove. The original invite from Blatter was made off-the-cuff in a press conference, wasn’t it? Any video of what he actually said?

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