Sunday, 16 June 2013

State of Play: Euro 2013, Football and Palestine

In the autumn of 2011 Philosophy Football met Honey Thalijeh, then captain of the Palestine Women’s Football team. Inspired by what she told them about what football meant to her country they promised that when Euro 2013 opened in Israel they would return to be in Palestine.

This June Israel have hosted the second biggest international team tournament in European football, the Euro 2013 Under 21′s Championship. Its the biggest international sporting event ever held in Israel. And England were thought to have a decent chance of winning. We know since they had a nightmare and many words have been written by some of our top sports journalists like Henry Winter about our pathetic displays - but little if anything was written about what was happening just a few miles from the stadiums where the tournament is being held.

But on the other side of the wall Israel built football is played and watched in Palestine under the most abnormal of conditions. Massive restrictions of movement, 24 hour surveillance and illegal settlements and land grabs, yet on the football pitch, as recognised by FIFA, Palestine plays football as a nation.

Throughout the tournament Israel has done everything it can to keep attention away from football on the Palestinian side of the wall. Philosophy Football had returned and made a film, the film, shot at the start of June will help to break this silence. The film was premiered in Ramallah at the HQ of the Palestine Olympic Association and simultaneously released on YouTube.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to the British Premier, held at the Electric Film Palace in Harwich. You can view it here on 'You tube' - it will be shown tomorrow in Soho and then tour Film Festivals over the UK and Europe.

I t interested me as football can help break down barriers and borders - as a young soldier we used football coaching to build up friendship with local Bosnian children then helped organise a tournament between Serb and Bosnian Muslim children.

Last week in Turkey, supporters of the three Turkish football teams joined together to protest about the current Turkish leader.

In Italy clubs have their 'Ultra' fans - often associated with a political group- some on the 'far right' but others like Vitus Verona on the 'left'.

In England, organisations like 'Philosophy Football' have shown that supporters can join together to make a difference- you can't separate politics from sport. In the past the English Far Right have believed they have had the monopoly when it comes to attracting football supporters - but this has always been a myth it us just that organisations like the National Front and the BNP have been more vocal about their links with football groups. But it is important that those in the centre and on the left speak out. With the EDL gathering support since the murder of a soldier in Woolwich it is important that fans groups stand up and be counted and do not allow all football fans to be tarnished with the 'Far Right' EDL tag as often happened in the 70's when all fans were seen as NF foot soldiers.

The 2013/14 season will be an important one politically for football, clubs, the FA and fans from Palestine to Italy, Russia to Turkey and Sweden to Britain.

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