Israeli restrictions on Gaza and West Bank stifling Palestinian football

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Rafah Club and Balata Youth Center team players in action during the Palestine Cup match in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah last month. (Supplied)
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Rafah Club and Balata Youth Center team players in action during the Palestine Cup match in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah last month. (Supplied)
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Rafah Club and Balata Youth Center team players in action during the Palestine Cup match in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah last month. (Supplied)
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Rafah Club and Balata Youth Center team players in action during the Palestine Cup match in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah last month. (Supplied)
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Rafah Club and Balata Youth Center team players in action during the Palestine Cup match in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah last month. (Supplied)
Updated 11 July 2019
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Israeli restrictions on Gaza and West Bank stifling Palestinian football

  • Israeli authorities have recently disrupted training camps by preventing trainers from the International Federation of Football from entering the Gaza Strip
  • Last week, Israel blocked the Rafah football team from traveling to the West Bank from the Gaza Strip

GAZA CITY: Due to Israeli restrictions and the separation between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Palestinian athletes do not enjoy regular sports competitions.
Last week, Israel blocked the Rafah football team from traveling to the West Bank from the Gaza Strip, preventing the final match of the Palestine Cup against the Balata Youth Center team. The match was scheduled a week ago at Nablus Stadium. They were forced to postpone it indefinitely.
A board member of the Rafah Club, Hudhayfah Lafi, said they were surprised to discover that Israeli authorities had only granted four permits to their 35-strong team to pass through the Erez crossing.
On Aug. 30, the Israeli authorities prevented three members of the Balata Youth Center, including their goalkeeper and coach, from passing through Erez to meet the Rafah team in the final match of the Palestine Cup.
“These complicated Israeli measures are aimed at obstructing the development of Palestinian sport, especially football, which has improved so much over the year,” Lafi said.
The Palestinian Football Federation organizes separate contests in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank due to Israeli restrictions. For four years, it has organized the Palestine Cup to determine the federation’s champions through two-legged matches.
The Palestinian Football Federation was established in 1928, and joined FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation in 1998. Since then, Palestinian teams have been participating in international and continental competitions.
But due to Israeli restrictions and the positions of Arab and Islamic countries that do not have relations with Israel, the Palestinian national team has been banned from playing their home games in Palestinian stadiums for many years and is forced to host them in nearby Arab countries.
The first official international game on Palestinian territory was recorded by FIFA in October 2008, where Palestine faced Jordan at the Stadium of Martyr Faisal Husseini in Jerusalem, which ended in a draw.
Ibrahim Abu Saleem, vice president of the Palestinian Football Federation, said that Palestinian teams are forced to establish training camps outside Palestine because of Israel’s refusal to grant Gaza Strip players permits to cross into the West Bank.
Israeli authorities have recently disrupted training camps by preventing trainers from the International Federation of Football from entering the Gaza Strip.
Abu Saleem said that Israel is fighting Palestinian youth by blocking sport, but it will not succeed in its efforts to limit its growth. He said that sport in Palestine will remain “one of the headlines of the national struggle.”
He added that Palestinian sport carries “a message of love and peace to the world,” which requires FIFA and the international community to confront Israeli violations against athletes and sports in Palestine.
The sports page editor of the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, Ashraf Matar, said that although much attention is dedicated to football, the obstacles imposed by Israel include many other sports, preventing the passage of coaches to hold courses in the Gaza Strip.
“Israel has banned members of the Olympic Committee and the delegation of the Scout and Girl Guides Association in Gaza from going to Jordan to participate in a sports event.
“Sports teams in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem are participating in local Israeli competitions and European competitions, and organizing games on playgrounds in these settlements,” Mattar added. “Israel prevents Palestinian sports teams from freely moving between Gaza and the West Bank.”
The president of the Palestinian Football Federation, Jibril Rajoub, submitted a draft resolution to the FIFA Congress in May 2015 to vote on the suspension of Israel’s membership until it complies with international laws and stops targeting Palestinian athletes. Rajoub later withdrew this resolution following advice from international federations. FIFA committed to investigating the Israeli violations through its Commission of Inquiry.
Abu Saleem expressed his indignation at FIFA’s “vague position,” which did not take the recommendations of its own fact-finding committee.


Algeria sink Senegal in fiery final to claim second Africa Cup of Nations

Updated 20 July 2019
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Algeria sink Senegal in fiery final to claim second Africa Cup of Nations

CAIRO: Baghdad Bounedjah’s early goal propelled Algeria to a first Africa Cup of Nations title in 29 years after a fiery 1-0 victory over Sadio Mane’s Senegal in Friday’s final in Cairo.
Bounedjah gave Algeria a dream start in the second minute when his deflected shot looped over Senegal goalkeeper Alfred Gomis, and it proved enough for the 1990 champions to lift the trophy on foreign soil for the first time.
For Senegal, who lost to Algeria by the same scoreline in the group stage, the long wait for a first continental crown goes on as coach Aliou Cisse, the captain of the 2002 runners-up, again fell short in the final.
It was the first title-decider to feature two African coaches since 1998, with Algeria boss Djamel Belmadi completing a whirlwind 12 months at the helm after inheriting a side that failed to make it out of the group stage two years ago.
With defensive rock Kalidou Koulibaly suspended for Senegal, Salif Sane deputised at the back and Ismaila Sarr was recalled in attack, while Belmadi kept faith in the same side that overcame Nigeria with an injury-time free-kick from Riyad Mahrez.
Senegal had understandably feared the absence of Napoli star Koulibaly, banned after two bookings in the knockout rounds, although the towering Sane was desperately unlucky as Algeria grabbed the lead with scarcely a minute played.
As Bounedjah took aim from 20 yards his effort smacked off Sane and arced high into the air before dropping underneath the crossbar and beyond a static Gomis, sparking delirious celebrations from both players and fans, some of whom arrived for the final on military planes provided by the Algerian government.
It was the first time Gomis had conceded in almost 400 minutes in Egypt having replaced the injured Edouard Mendy ahead of Senegal’s final group game.
Henri Saivet, who missed a penalty in the 1-0 victory over Tunisia, tried to catch Rais Mbohli out with a free-kick while Mbaye Niang fizzed a powerful drive just over as Senegal gradually showed signs of life before the half ended with both sets of players embroiled in a scuffle as they headed for the tunnel.
Senegal thought they had won a penalty on the hour when Cameroonian referee Alioum Alioum pointed to the spot for a suspected handball by Adlene Guedioura, but the official reversed his decision after a VAR review.
Niang rounded an advancing Mbohli after a searching ball through from Cheikhou Kouyate but the forward sliced wide of the target from a tough angle, with the Algeria ‘keeper then acrobatically tipping over a rasping drive from Youssouf Sabaly.
The Desert Foxes started to look jaded as Senegal brought on fresh legs in Krepin Diatta and Mbaye Diagne, but Youcef Belaili nearly made it 2-0 when his cross brushed the head of a defender and skimmed the roof of the net.
Sarr blazed over on the volley as Algeria clung on to their advantage in the closing minutes, the final whistle greeted by an outpouring of raw emotion as the North Africans emerged worthy winners of the expanded 24-team event.