|By Gianni Merlo, AIPS President |
RAMALLAH, May 16, 2011 - The first international football tournament in Palestine was due to
play its first match on May 15, the "Day of the Catastrophe", according to the
Palestinians, because it was on that date in 1948 that the independence of the State of Israel was proclaimed.
In actual fact the opening ceremony of the event,
which saw the participation of 14 teams coming from 7 countries, was scheduled
for Saturday, May 14 until the news that FIFA President Sepp Blatter would not arrive until
Sunday became known. The ceremony was changed to the 15th and had to
cope with the Intifada, which forced the official convoy to make a long detour
to avoid finding itself in the middle of the demonstrations. The direct route
to the stadium in fact passes through the refugee camp, where they all have
rage in their eyes. There were violent stone-fights and the reaction left a
heavy toll: more than 150 wounded. But in Gaza there were more than 6 dead.
THE PRESIDENT The previous day, when there was
tension in the air, but everything was resolved with just some small
skirmishes, we went to the Moqataa, the headquarters of the Palestinian
government at Ramallah - a complex of buildings surrounded by a two-meter high
wall and crowned with barbed wire. The inside was full of people in view. The
approach was human. We went up to the first floor. We didn’t have
long to wait. Abu Mazen, the President (or Mahmoud Abbas as he is know outside the Arab
world) was very punctual. He was accompanied by Major General Jibril Mahmoud Muhammad Rajoub, president of both the Palestine National Olympic Committee and Palestine
Football Federation, the true soul of Palestinian sport which, together with
the Palestinian Sports Press Association, invited us to this event.
Abu Mazen shook hands with everyone and
immediately started discussing the matters close to his heart.
anything else, it should be said that politics must be left out of sport. It
must follow its own path, which shouldn’t be confused, nor distorted. A contamination would be
a serious mistake”
you ever practised sport?
I’ve not been lucky in that.”
you a fan?
follow football, basketball and volleyball in particular. My grandchildren are
all Barcelona fans and I’ve been infected, I can’t go against the family. We
must win the Champions League.”
value does sport have for you?
very important, because it’s a transverse phenomenon for all generations, it has
a common language all over the world, it’s universal. It bears positive
you think it can help in relations with Israel?
opened important doors in the past. The first one I remember was the famous
table-tennis match in China, which created the preamble for a return to normal
relations with the United States. That was no small thing.”
your case, could it help, given that a first agreement has been signed between
the Israeli and Palestinian National Olympic committees?
so because young people need to meet to get to know each other. We’re cousins
but we don’t know each other; this is the problem. There are many people who
understand the need to talk in Israel, but there are some politicians who
continue to not understand or, better, to not want things to change. This is
the real obstacle. I’m convinced that, in the end, sport can demolish certain
old and wrong convictions because young people want a different future. We need
to move out of isolation.”
you ready for an opening?
I’m convinced that there is a feasible path and our commitment must go in that
direction. Violence doesn’t resolve things but talking and knowledge do. We all
have to make an effort. We must have goodwill.”
In the meantime, the chink opened by the agreement
between the Israeli and Palestinian National Olympic committees, signed in Lausanne
last week, preceded by an important meeting at the Olympic Forum in Rome, at
the behest of Mario Pescante, vice president of the IOC, could really create
new positive preambles. And the International Sports Press Association will
follow this example to create a bridge between the two associations of
journalists, which currently don’t have any contact. The press, in turn, can
play an important role. We hope it is possible to organise a meeting to start a
new course of action, even if times are difficult, but it is our duty to try.