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

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.


Even in death, Diego Maradona continues to haunt Peter Shilton

Updated 27 November 2020

Even in death, Diego Maradona continues to haunt Peter Shilton

  • While other members of that defeated England team have been gracious, Shilton still protests over that goal
  • Maradona would have won the now historic match, even without the help of his hands

DUBAI: Imagine being Peter Shilton.

It’s May 30, 1979. You have just won the European Cup with Nottingham Forest after beating Malmo 1-0 in Munich. A year earlier you had won the English First Division title. You are on top of the world, to many people the best goalkeeper in the world. A million joyous emotions swirl through your head.

You have the distinct look of a man who has no inclination that in exactly seven years and 23 days, you’ll suffer an almighty indignity, or two, that will define your existence.

Only two days after Forest’s triumph, an 18-year-old who will orchestrate your future humiliation is giving Scotland the run-around at Hampden Park, capping a devastating display of dribbling skills with a goal as Argentina beat the hosts 3-1. Keep an eye on that Diego Maradona, he could go far in this game.

It’s May 13, 1980, and you’re Peter Shilton.

You’re watching England beat Argentina 3-1 at Wembley in another friendly match. In the first half, the now 19-year-old Argentinian announces himself to a new audience in a way that would become very familiar to England defenders in the coming years. 

Receiving the ball in midfield, in one movement he pivots and then proceeds to cut his way through the home defense. One by one, Phil Thompson, Phil Neal and Kenny Sansom are left in a shambolic heap. Faced with the great Ray Clemence in goal, he clips the ball agonizingly wide of the far post. But do keep an eye on this Maradona kid. 

But if you’re Peter Shilton, you have more important things on your mind. Like retaining the European Cup with Nottingham Forest two weeks later by beating Hamburg 1-0 at the Bernabeu. You’re not to know it, but your career has peaked. Still, your place in history is assured, you can sleep sound in that knowledge. At least for six years.

Your career trajectory and that of Maradona are about to diverge dramatically. There will be no more league titles and European Cups for you. Maradona leaves Boca Juniors for Barcelona and Napoli to conquer the world. But fear not, your paths shall cross.

June 22, 1986. The Azteca Stadium, Mexico City. You’re Peter Shilton, you’re 36, and you’re stepping out for arguably the biggest match of your career; England v Argentina in the World Cup quarter-final.

Ninety minutes go by in a blur. The final whistle goes and it feels like you’ve just lived through a nightmare.

Maradona goes on to become world champion a week later, and you go on to be haunted by bitterness for the rest of your life

Ali Khaled

There are vague memories of being outjumped in a basketball-style tip-off by a man 18 cm shorter than you. The Hand of God may have been at play, but where was the hand of Shilton?

You barely had time to recover from going 1-0 down before a familiar scene plays out in front of you. That short Argentinian is at it again, this time reenacting his dance through the English defense in 1980. Here, it’s Glenn Hoddle, Peter Reid, Terry Butcher and Terry Fenwick performing the guard of honor. What Clemence saw at Wembley, you see now.

But by this time Diego Maradona is the greatest player the world has ever seen. In the middle of the greatest individual and tournament performance the World Cup will ever witness. There will be no repeat of Wembley’s profligacy. 

A little feint and you’re on the seat of your pants, resigned to your fate. A tap in and Maradona has just scored the greatest goal of all time, but only the second most famous of the previous five minutes.

In that moment you are the Salieri to his Mozart; the George Foreman to his Muhammad Ali; the Wile E. Coyote to his Road Runner.

At full time, a gracious Gary Lineker, who had threatened to wipe out the two-goal deficit but only managed to halve it, embraces Maradona. The Englishman’s face betrays an admiration, the Argentine’s an exhausted joy. They become life-long friends.

Maradona goes on to become world champion a week later, and you go on to be haunted by bitterness for the rest of your life.

Now it’s July 4, 1990. Imagine being Peter Shilton and it’s the World Cup semi-final against West Germany. Within reach, though probably not yours, is a final against Argentina and the chance to avenge the indignity of four years earlier.

But now you are 40 and a shadow of the goalkeeper you used to be. You’ve already lost another battle with gravity, the ball sailing over your head from Andreas Brehme’s deflected free-kick. Not for the first time, Lineker saves the day with an equalizer, and the match goes to penalties.

You guess the right way for every single penalty the Germans take and yet your seemingly shrinking arms get nowhere near the ball for any of them. 

England are out, and your hopes of revenge are dashed forever.

Imagine you're Peter Shilton in the twilight of your career and in retirement. To you, Maradona is forever a “cheat”. To Maradona, you’re a mere footballing midget, worthy of a single mention in his autobiography, and only to call you a “thermos head”, a colloquial Argentinian jibe for someone who is considered “stupid.” Maradona 3, Shilton 0. 

Now imagine being Peter Shilton on Nov. 25, 2020. You’ve just heard that the man responsible for your career-defining moment has passed away due to a heart attack at 60. Plastered all over the risible tabloid media’s front pages is the moment of your greatest humiliation. What do you do?

As the world grieved, you had the choice to be magnanimous, belatedly generous in praise of a fallen great. For once, to be the bigger, if not necessarily the highest-jumping, man. To be like Lineker, who on the BBC gave an eloquent and heart-wrenching tribute to his departed friend. Or to simply stay quiet.

But that is not the Shilton way. And the English media knew exactly who to call on for one final rant, one final accusation of cheating. To the surprise of no one, you answered the call.

From beyond the grave, Diego Maradona has humiliated you one last time. Just imagine being Peter Shilton.