New ground was broken in Palestine last Thursday with the launch of the country’s first-ever women’s 11-a-side league. This latest step in the troubled nation’s football development comes at an exciting time for the beautiful game in Palestine, with significant advances continuing at an encouraging rate.
There to see the opening game of this historic league take place were Palestinian Prime Minister, Dr Salam Fayaad, special advisor to the UN Secretary-General for Peace and Sport, Dr Willi Lemke, and the president of the Palestinian Football Association (PFA), Jibril Rajoub.
Previously, women’s football in Palestine had only ever been played on an indoor, five-a-side basis, so this progression to a more traditional format represents a major step forward for the nation’s female players. The reward for the winners and runners-up of the 2010 five-a-side league, Sareiat YMCA Ramallah and Deyara Bethlehem respectively, was the honour of contesting this new league’s opening match. And, fittingly, the game was played out in the FIFA-funded international stadium in Ram, a gleaming arena that was inaugurated as recently as 2008. In front of an animated, 11,000-strong crowd, Bethlehem emerged 2-0 victors.
Despite the defeat, Caroline Swajian, whose exquisite skills impressed the crowd, preferred to accentuate the positives. “Although my team lost, I am happy with our good performance and the love among the players,” she said. “The opening ceremony of the launch of women’s football was wonderful, with a huge crowd. This is a major step towards the development of women’s football.”
Each of the six competing clubs has received a special subsidy from the PFA, as have those continuing in the existing five-a-side competition, which will continue to run in parallel with the new league. It’s a positive development that is also typical of the advances currently being made in women’s football and across the game as a whole in Palestine.
The national women’s team, for example, is competing in an ever-increasing number of regional and continent-wide tournaments, with the goal of competing in a FIFA qualifying competition now within their grasp. The men’s team also have a platform to build on, with recent years having brought about a homecoming that has enabled both the senior national side and the Olympic team finally able to play friendly matches on Palestinian soil.
With the launch of this new women’s league set to be followed by the first-ever competitive match in Palestine – a Men’s Olympic Football Tournament qualifier against Thailand – the future for the nation’s football looks brighter than ever.
“The launch of the Women's Football League is a great achievement for Palestinian Football and women's football in particular,” said Honey Thaljyeh. “It showed the awareness that Palestinian women’s players have got, and their role in Palestinian society. It was a historical game.”