Palestinian football mined by the conflict with Israel
RAMALLAH (West Bank) – A very popular sport but still amateur, football in the Palestinian territories is facing great difficulties due to the conflict with Israel, although progress has been made in recent years.
- "Today the situation is not perfect, but it has improved in comparison to previous years," said Ismail Azzam, a leader of the Palestinian Federation of Football Association (PFA), affiliated to the Federation of International Football Associations ( FIFA).
After eight years of interruption due to the violence of the intifada, the league took over the West Bank during the 2008-2009 season.
"But the Palestinian soccer remains largely an amateur sport," said Azzam Ismail in an interview with AFP.
To improve the level, "he would first have the political progress but also more freedom of movement for players, stadiums, high standard, qualified coaches, more funding and better organization," he said .
A new organization of clubs
It is the aim of the new President of the PFA, Jibril Rajoub, who took office in May 2008. The former strongman of the Palestinian Security has assigned the task of bringing the total number of clubs to 80 in the West Bank, as requested by FIFA.
A first step was the creation of four divisions at the end of last season, the top 12 clubs making up the elite, known as First Division A, following the 14 First Division B, and the rest were split between the Second and Third divisions.
- In total there are 216 clubs in the West Bank and 38 in the Ghaza Strip, but no competition between the two Palestinian entities because of the blockade imposed by Israel against Ghaza which prevents the movement of players.
In addition, the situation is complicated by the dissensions between the Palestinian Authorityt, which exercises its power over the West Bank, and the Islamist Hamas movement that controls Ghaza.
Jibril Rajoub however promised to keep the football out of politics.
Palestinian clubs have few resources and are often unable to pay their players for the most part, have a job off the field.
Currently, less than a dozen players from African countries (Nigeria, Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana) play in the championship Palestinian.
Like the rest of the Palestinian population, the players also face barriers to freedom of movement because of the 600 Israeli checkpoints installed in the West Bank.
"The situation today has improved" with the lifting of some note, however, Azzam Ismail.
First match at home
Finally, almost no team in the region, with the exception of Jordanian clubs, has played inside the Palestinian territory in the absence of diplomatic relations between most Arab countries and Israel.
The Palestinian national team played the first game of its history at home against Jordan (1-1) in October 2008 in the brand-new stadium Faisal Husseini Al-Ram, a suburb of Jerusalem, the West Bank.
The ground, artificial turf, has been approved by FIFA for international matches.
Although the Palestinian territories are not recognized as a state, Palestine is affiliated to FIFA since 1998, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
But "with resources and a stable political situation, the level could reach one of the best Arab countries, adds Azzam Ismail, regretting that" generations of Palestinian athletes have not been able to do well because of the occupation. "
- Ennaharonline/ M. O.