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Palestine-Israel 'Peace match': No Football

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901   //    10 Mar 2013, 23:20 IST

The past four weeks have been less than kind to FC Barcelona (FCB). Since the end of January 2013, manager – Tito Vilanova has been in New York undergoing urgent cancer treatment. Although a stoic FCB provided frequent updates on Tito’s status and have repeatedly insisted his health is top priority, they are clearly feeling his absence.

Once referred to as the “best squad in the world”, they have been beaten in three out their last four matches. At first it was the humiliating defeat by AC Milan in the first leg of the Champion League series. Followed by the two losses to arch rivals Real Madrid in less than a week.

Immediately, it was revealed that the club had breached FIFA regulations in regards to the transfer of minors that were in place to prevent child trafficking and exploitation. Although this announcement may not have affected the first team directly, the overall soul would have most definitely been shaken and affected the players, many of whom have risen through the ranks of La Masia and been groomed since children to play for the Blaugrana.

Perhaps the hardest hit taken by this prestigious club is the recent rejection of their foray into diplomatic missions in the Middle East.

Barcelona had been revelling in praise and media attention for the recent trip of President Sandro Rosell and Vice-President Javier Fraus to both Israel and Palestine a couple of weeks ago. It was their intention to propose a “Peace Match” between a team comprised of players from the FCB against a team made up of both Palestinian and Israeli players.

Rosell announced the potential match at a press conference with Israeli President Shimon Peres. Rosell lauded the initiative as groundbreaking and stated:

Barcelona, wishes to… contribute to the effort to strengthen the bridges of peace and dialogue between the Israeli and Palestinian communities. The best way we can do this is with a ball”.

The match was proposed to be played this summer at National Stadium in Tel Aviv.

After his visit and much photographed presser with Peres, Rosell then met with Palestinian Leader Mahmud Abbas in another presentation full of media and lauding and gifts of personalized jerseys followed by a get-together with Palestinian Football Association (PFA) President Jibril Rajoub.


However, it was quickly announced through several media outlets that the Palestinians had rejected the offer to play the epic “Peace Match” (The Washington Times, New York Times, and Haaretz). Rajoub had clearly stated that “there are lots of obstacles” in reference to logistics, organizing, planning and accepting the idea of playing a match in Israel.

The most significant being that of the occupation of Palestine and strict restrictions on mobility, access, food, supplies and the recent air strikes and attacks on Gaza City which had killed and injured dozens and destroyed much of the infrastructure including, schools, hospitals and the Gaza City Football Stadium.

To destroy the facilities of an oppressed population and discuss the possibility of engaging in a sport in a location that masterminded the attacks is unrealistic and quite frankly irresponsible.

Had FCB helped and donated to rebuild the stadium and the facilities, and then perhaps play the match in Gaza, I could see how an olive branch would have been extended (pun and point intended). Had FCB had a solid history of development, interest and commitment in the area as Real Madrid has shown, one might be convinced that this initiative is of a sincere nature.

The last time FCB showed any sort of effort was when they hosted a game at Camp Nou in 2005. On neutral territory. Not this time. The proposed match would be July 31, 2013 in Israel.

Playing outside of Israel poses another problem especially when Israel does not recognize the Palestinian Federation. How is it possible to play as a part of a team of two nations when one won’t acknowledge the other?

Oddly, despite the fact that there were many reports of the Palestinians declining the Barca’s offer, the official site still proceeded to immerse itself in self-congratulatory praise and showcased how its’ efforts were highlighted in media around the world.

Ironically, there was no mention of the fact that the offer was clearly rejected. It can be deduced that FCB may not really be listening to the voices of the Palestinian people.

Particularly when President Rajoub had clearly stated that there are three main “obstacles to overcome” and address before agreeing to go further.

These include the right for Israeli authorities to allow free movement of players (both teams) between Gaza and the West Bank for training and preparations; also that Israeli State officially recognize the Palestinian Federation, which is a FIFA member.

Furthermore, a highly contested FIFA U21 European tournament may be hosted elsewhere due to immense pressure from the global community due to the effects of its recent attacks on Gaza. To a point that a usually mum and ineffective FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, committed to rebuilding the stadium.

Israeli football has also come under fire at the domestic level due to the overt racist attitudes and actions against Muslim players. Surrounded with all these points of tension, perhaps declining Rosell’s offer may have been on point. Most recently, Al Arabiya News reported Rajoub’s interview with Reuters Television:

For us sport is a tool for spreading love, stability and co-operation with all the world. But the possibility of playing a soccer game with Israeli participants in the absence of Israeli recognition of a national Palestinian sporting body, in accordance with the Olympic charter, and in the absence of recognizing the right of the Palestinian sporting body to practice sport, I think without achieving all this, playing this game will not be possible.”

The above does not sound like a “maybe” but more like a very clear “No justice, No Football”.

Al Arabiya also reported statements from residents in Gaza who were vehemently opposed to the idea of a Peace Match with Israel at this time. Conceivably, mobility, access to food, schooling and freedom from persecution and oppression may come before a “Peace Match”.

Although Barca prides itself on being Més que un club (More than a Club), I might suggest an early retirement from the Middle Eastern diplomacy and for them to focus on some of the challenges that lie immediately at their feet…on the pitch.

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