Played by millions of people in every corner of the world, football is truly a global sport. As many as 208 member associations come under the aegis of FIFA, including Palestine, who joined in 1998. The president of their FA and head of the national Olympic committee, Jibril Al Rajoub, came to Zurich to meet FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter and discuss the development of football in the country.
Two years have passed since the inauguration of the national stadium in Al-Ram near Ramallah. Development money provided by FIFA helped towards the costs of the new Al-Husseini Stadium, which was officially opened in the presence of FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter on 26 October 2008. In their first ever match there, played in front of a capacity crowd, Palestine and Jordan drew 1-1. Prior to that date, the Palestine FA did not have a stadium fit to host internationals, meaning that the national team had to play its 'home' matches in Jordan and Qatar.
Since then, the development of football in Palestine has not been as wide-ranging as planned, as Al Rajoub explained: "The building of the stadium in Al-Ram was the first but also the last of its kind, even though we have budgets for other Goal projects available to us. We are always being prevented from getting construction underway.”
Supplies of materials and equipment also pose a problem for the Palestinian FA. "Deliveries that we should get from FIFA, UEFA or the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and from other national associations get stuck at the border and we are not allowed to bring them in,” Al Rajoub lamented.
The country has a professional, well-run national league as well as a women’s football league, but the Palestinians find themselves confronted with a number of hurdles which prevent them from nurturing and developing the game any further. "One of the main problems is that players are not free to move,” Al Rajoub explained. “Recently six of our players were prevented from travelling to Jordan for an international we were playing against Mauritania, and our captain Ahmed Keshkesh has been waiting since June to be allowed to go home.”
During the meeting, the FIFA President was quick to lend his support. “I call on the Israel Football Association and the Israel Government to do everything in their power to enable Palestine to promote football as best they can. Youngsters across the region need to have the opportunity to play football. It can build bridges, bring young people in the region together and give them hope. The Palestinian Football Association needs to have the chance to work at providing a better future.”
Yet all these problems have done nothing to discourage the president of the Palestine FA from fighting for the development of sport and in particular football in the country. "When President Blatter came here two years ago, his authority and conviction inspired our actions," said Al Rajoub.
"This gave me encouragement, since despite all the hurdles, we need the game to carry on developing. We are never going to give up and will carry on our humanitarian struggle, so that our youngsters and our sportsmen and women obtain the same rights as everyone else.”