Israeli restrictions on Gaza and West Bank stifling Palestinian football

1 / 5
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)
2 / 5
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)
3 / 5
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)
4 / 5
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)
5 / 5
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
0

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.


Fernandinho is last line of defense as City face Watford test

Updated 20 September 2019

Fernandinho is last line of defense as City face Watford test

  • Pep Guardiola’s side are 5 points behind Jurgen Klopp’s rampant Liverpool

MANCHESTER: Fernandinho stepped seamlessly into Manchester City’s backline in midweek to ease Pep Guardiola’s defensive woes but the Premier League champions know their stretched resources will be tested by a physical Watford side on Saturday.

The clubs last met in the FA Cup final in May, with City romping to a 6-0 victory to complete the first-ever domestic treble in English football history.

But just four months later Guardiola, whose side are already five points behind Jurgen Klopp’s rampant Liverpool, is facing a serious headache at the back, with Aymeric Laporte and John Stones out for significant spells.

Frenchman Laporte, described as the best left-sided defender in Europe by Guardiola, is out until at least February after injuring knee ligaments in the recent win over Brighton.

That left Stones, whose start to the season was hampered by injury, as the only specialist center-half left to partner Nicolas Otamendi, a player who has not been an automatic first choice for some time.

England defender Stones, however, suffered a muscle injury in training and reports suggest he could be out for four to five weeks.

City appear to be paying the price for a curious strategy in the transfer market.

Over the past two years, they have shown strong interest in Virgil van Dijk and Harry Maguire, only to balk at paying what turned out to be world record transfer fees for defenders.

Van Dijk went to Liverpool for £75 million ($93m) while Maguire ended up at Manchester United for £80m.

Given the vast wealth of the City’s Abu Dhabi ownership, and the fact they have broken their own club transfer record in each of the past two summers, such caution when it comes to signing center-halves seems curious.

Guardiola also famously spent big on three fullbacks — Kyle Walker, Danilo and Benjamin Mendy — in a matter of days in 2017 which makes his, and City’s, refusal to compete with Liverpool and United for center-halves all the more baffling.

The upshot of their approach was that they failed to replace veteran club skipper Vincent Kompany, who returned to Belgium.

City’s refusal to go toe to toe with their rivals means they face Watford, and new manager Quique Sanchez Flores, with only Otamendi as a fit, specialist central defender.

Watford are bottom of the league but come into the match buoyant after recovering from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 against Arsenal.

At least Guardiola has a ready-made solution, with defensive midfielder Fernandinho playing at center-back for the midweek visit to Shakhtar Donetsk, where City won 3-0.

The City manager has long spoken of moving Fernandinho back into that position as his career draws to a close although his hand has been forced by the injuries.

“That’s why he is so important for us,” said Guardiola after the victory in his side’s Champions League opener.

“We don’t have many choices. I think he is the only one I have. Other players can play in that position but Fernandinho is a clever player and so intelligent — an incredible guy.

“He did well the first game he played. Of course he has a lot of experience and personality, and what he says the people follow him in the locker room so it’s important.”

Right-back Walker is another player who could move into the center of defense in an emergency but, with Fernandinho in the veteran stage of his career now at 34, Guardiola is one injury away from a full-blown crisis.