Israelis in Riyadh to participate in competition of the world’s best players of the FIFA 23 football video gameAn Israeli esports team played the national anthem and lifted the Israeli flag in Saudi Arabia‘s capital Riyadh on Tuesday at a videogame tournament organised by FIFA and EA Sports.
Israel’s Kan broadcaster reported that singing the anthem was part of the dress rehearsal for the opening ceremony for the FIFAe World Cup finals, a competition drawing the world’s best players of the FIFA 23 football video game, being held in the Saudi capital.
Israel and Saudi Arabia have no official ties, though relations have warmed considerably in recent years.
The official FIFA account published a video on Tuesday during which the Israeli players appear for a short moment along with their country’s flag.
The Israeli team travelled on Friday to the United Arab Emirates and then to Riyadh using Israeli passports, and FIFA officials coordinated the visit, Kan reported.
The Israeli esports team comprises three gamers, a coach, and a deputy manager, and is protected by a security company while in Riyadh. On Wednesday, they were at the top of their D Group, which included teams from Sweden, Germany, Peru, India and South Africa.
A source privy to the visit’s details told Kan that the Saudis vetoed Israel’s FIFAe team singing the national anthem in front of an audience at the ceremony.
It was decided to sing it in dress rehearsal and be filmed without the presence of an audience. The Saudis also did not broadcast the parade of teams or give the full dress rehearsal video to the Israeli team.
Roi Kais, a Tel Aviv-based journalist, published a video of the Israeli delegation singing the anthem in the dress rehearsal.
The Israel FIFAe team is ranked second in the world and has a high chance of winning the competition hosted in Riyadh between 6 and 19 July.
The Israeli gamers received a letter from the Saudi Esports Association approving their entry to the country. However, the letter did not name Israel but said that all national teams from countries in the competition could enter Saudi Arabia.
FIFA asks countries to set politics aside when hosting one of its competitions. In March, FIFA stripped Indonesia of the right to host the Under-20 World Cup after Jakarta refused to host the Israeli team.
The visit by Israel’s esports team to Saudi Arabia was hailed in Israeli media as a sign of normalisation between the two countries.
In recent weeks, US officials said that the possibility of a deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia is not imminent, as Riyadh demanded security guarantees from the US and a solution to the Palestinian issue.
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