Palestine has been ravaged by internal and external conflict throughout the 21st century. Yet, through FIFA’s aid, football has made significant progress there in recent years. This week, a FIFA delegation led by FIFA Executive committee member Lydia Nsekera was in Ramallah to celebrate the three-year anniversary of the first women’s international played on home soil.
Palestine joined FIFA in 1998 but had been unable to play internationals within their borders until funding from world football’s governing body helped them build a stadium up to international standards in 2008, when it welcomed Jordan for its maiden match with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter in attendance. FIFA also aided the construction of new offices for the Palestinian Football Association (PFA).
FIFA has also been instrumental in the development of women’s football in the Middle Eastern state. In 2008, the Al-Husseini stadium in Ramallah was refurbished with a latest-generation international-standard artificial pitch, stands were built, facilities upgraded, new offices for the Palestinian FA and a training centre being built, with a contribution of $800,000 from FIFA. Since then, indeed, FIFA has organised several courses for coaches and children, and helped with the establishment of the Palestinian Women’s Football League last year.
In Ramallah, the FIFA delegation met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, PFA President Jibril Al Rajoub, and Mr. Wilfried Lemke, a Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace.
President Abbas showed his appreciation: “I would like to thank FIFA for its great support towards football development in Palestine. This visit from FIFA is a milestone for Palestinian football and, in particular, the development of women’s football.”
The next stop was Bethlehem, where, during a ceremony, they watched a video presentation of Palestinian women’s football. PFA President Rajoub urged Palestinians to have belief. "If we are convinced about these concepts, we can convince others,” he said. “And if we practice these we will put our enemies in the corner in the name of morality.”
Nsekera greeted the attendees, which included members of the Palestinian women’s football team, on behalf of the FIFA President, before adding: “Football is a wonderful school and family for both boys and girls, and I would like to thank the Palestinian FA, the government and the whole community for supporting women’s football.”
The formalities then took a back-seat as the fun took over. Indeed, everybody headed to the Al Khader Stadium on Sunday evening to watch Palestine host United Arab Emirates in a women’s international. They were treated to six goals and although the Palestinians lost 4-2, their goals, courtesy of Walaa Hussein and Karol Sahejan, were celebrated passionately.
If Palestinian football continues to progress as it has done in recent years, the country will have cause aplenty for celebration in the future.