Inside World Football’s Mark Baber reports that n the eve of Palestine’s participation in the Asian Cup finals, a FIFA delegation arrived in Gaza on Monday to witness at first hand the long struggle of Palestinians to realise their right to play football, in the face of the conflicts with Israel and the bombing of playing fields and stadiums.
The delegation led by FIFA’s senior development manager for Asia, David Borja, is the first FIFA visit in 12 years and was predictably held up at the Eretz Israeli border crossing for five hours, meaning a scheduled match between two Gazan teams was missed.
Visiting the bomb-damaged Yarmouk Stadium, Borja was upbeat saying the visit would be the start of “very good cooperation.”
FIFA have pledged to help rebuild football stadiums damaged in last year’s Israel Gaza conflict and an estimated $1 million is being provided for 20 rebuilding projects.
According to Borja; “Once the 20 rebuilding projects are finished, FIFA president Joseph Blatter will come to inaugurate them. [FIFA is] supporting football in the Gaza Strip and its development by bringing help and materials.”
Palestinian Football Federation (PFA) chief, Nafez Okasha, has said that the money donated by FIFA will enable synthetic pitches to be laid in 20 stadiums and the inauguration could be as soon as the early summer of this year.
The PFA continues to face challenges inconceivable to other federations. In November its headquarters were raided and employees interrogated in a move condemned by AFC president Sheik Salman Bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa who said that it set “a dangerous precedent that requires the international sporting family to stand together and support the PFA.”
The upcoming participation in the Asian Cup and a visit by the FIFA president, who has pledged to act as an “ambassador of the Palestine people,” to inaugurate new stadiums later this year, hold out hope for better times ahead and a vindication of Palestinian football’s ongoing and persistent struggle.
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