After four years of waiting, the passionately-charged FIFA World Cup will finally kick-off on June 11 in the South African city of Johannesburg. But while fans eagerly anticipate an entire month of intense rivalry and joyous celebration, a small football (soccer) federation hundreds of miles away has come together with its community and introduced a symbolic version of World Cup competition.
Three years into the brutal siege of the Gaza Strip, members of the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) in conjunction with international collaboration are currently staging the “Gaza World Cup” – a two-week long tournament involving 16 teams representing some of the world’s most dominant national teams. Over 400 individuals, including 200 foreign aid workers and international representatives, have gathered to compete against one another in a miniaturized format of the FIFA World Cup. The 16 teams, including host-team Palestine, France, Egypt, and the Netherlands, vie for the coveted Gaza Cup, a trophy made of twisted metal and rubble highlighting the Israeli siege and bombardment of the Gaza Strip. The championship match on May 15 will determine which team becomes ingrained in history as the first World Cup champion in Gaza.
Originally conceived by American Patrick McGrann, the idea of a football tournament within the besieged Gaza Strip gained widespread international popularity after endorsement by the United Nations Development Programme. But regardless of how popular the Cup is outside of the Gaza Strip, its intended effect is manifested internally. “[The Gaza World Cup] could be a vehicle to accomplish several goals at once: helping youth develop conflict-resolution skills and build pride in their own abilities and achievements, while bringing people together: foreigners and Palestinians, and Palestinians from different political parties,” says McGrann. Competitors and fans alike are given an opportunity to collectively experience the friendly rivalry and sense of enjoyment that exists only on the football pitch.
And while this competition intends to bridge gaps between cultural, international, and ideological divisions, it also manages to distribute a sense of normalcy to the Gazan people. For a few rare moments, Palestinians will be able to wave their flags without fearing Israeli snipers. They will hear cries of jubilation after a scored goal rather than the cries of their relatives bleeding in the streets. Kids will finally meet a non-hostile non-Palestinian. Instead of sporadic gunfire, Palestinian men and women will hear the national anthems of 16 different countries – including the Star Spangled Banner belonging to the United States of America.
This is as close to “normal” as the Palestinians can get.
But such a tournament should not come as a surprise. Notorious for a history of apartheid and prejudiced seclusion, South Africa has progressed forward enough to host the FIFA World Cup, one of the most esteemed sporting events in the world. Similar apartheid measures are practiced within the Palestinian territories by Israeli enforcers, so it’s only fitting that the Palestinians model themselves after the South African movement for equality, justice, and humanity. Although the Gaza World Cup may not necessarily be as popular as the FIFA tournament, it does signal progress towards humanitarian justice in Palestine. Coordinators of the Cup agree that this tournament is just a glimpse of a Palestinian future eliminating apartheid and promoting justice and dignity for all.
To follow any developments in the Gaza World Cup, visit http://gazaworldcup.org.