Palestine Football Federation
By George Ghattas Elias Albedd
One of the oldest Arab sports federations, the Palestine Football Federation was established in 1928. In 1934, the Palestinian national football team participated in the World Cup Championship, playing against Egypt.
In the following years, and due to the political unrest that prevailed in Palestine, all sports activities came to a halt, particularly following the 1948 Nakba, which resulted in the displacement and dispossession of thousands of Palestinians and their forced expulsion from Palestinian cities and villages. Eminent young sportsmen such as Jabra al-Zarqa and George Mardini departed to Syria, whereas others, such as Ibrahim Nusseibeh, Abdel Rahman al-Habbab, and Rushdi Abu Ghazaleh, went to Jordan.
In addition, many young sportsmen sought refuge in Gaza where they joined youth clubs and competed with Egyptian teams, gaining more experience and building their sports capacity. Similarly, West Bank sports centres and clubs became affiliated to the Jordanian Ministry of Youth and Sports and participated in official championships organised by the Jordanian Sports Federation, which resulted in the rapid development of Palestinian football. In the aftermath of June 1967 War, however, all sports activities were interrupted.
But the interruption did not last long. The YMCA in Jerusalem called a meeting for the most prominent figures in the sports sphere in order to set up a sports body that would sponsor sports activities in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Consequently, the Sports Club Association was formed, one in the West Bank and another in the Gaza Strip, and acted on behalf of the Ministry of Sports and Youth. The association supervised and organised sports activities and managed to categorise football teams into first, second, and third divisions. During the 1960s and 1970s, football achieved considerable progress, and the Palestinian national team participated in various Arab championships.
Following the advent of the PNA in 1994, the Palestine Football Federation was set up with a membership that included 259 clubs from all over Palestine. In 1998, the Federation obtained membership in the FIFA and, accordingly, the Palestinian national team had the right to participate in Asian, Arab, and world championships.
In 1999 the Palestinian national football team, coached by the late Azmi Nassar, played in the Arab championship that took place in Jordan and received the bronze medal. On 30 May 2000, the birth of West Asia Football Federation was announced, and Palestine had permanent membership in its administrative council.
Like young men, young Palestinian women had their share in national sports. Thus a women’s football team was formed and coached by Samar al-Araj from the Sports Department at Bethlehem University.
Since the Palestine Football Federation assumed its responsibilities, it has toiled and planned well and managed to achieve the following:
1. The Federation completed the construction of its headquarters and a hotel in the town of Beit Lahia in Gaza, as well as a football field nearby. In addition, as part of the FIFA Goal Project, new headquarters for the Federation will be built in Jerusalem.
2. The Federation drafted its bylaws, which will be the legal terms of reference for the relation between the Federation and the General Assembly.
3. The Federation signed a contract with a Dutch company for the implementation of three projects that include the renovation and sodding of three football pitches with grass. Al-Dahiyeh football pitch in the town of al-Ram and Majed Asaad football pitch in the city of al-Bireh have already been sodded with grass, and work will begin shortly on al-Itihad pitch in Gaza.
4. The Federation has put Palestinian referees on the international map. The Federation has qualified referees who have international certificates, some of whom have led official Arab and Asian matches.
5. In addition, the Federation has trained observers on the international level, some of whom have observed official Arab and Asian matches.
6. The Federation has referee lecturers who have given lectures locally and internationally.
7. Palestinian national teams for all age categories have participated in official Arab and Asian championships.
8. The Federation prides itself in having established relations with Palestinian sportsmen and women living in the diaspora and who take part in training camps for indigenous Palestinians.
9. The Federation has successfully organised local championships, which were sometimes interrupted because of the volatile political situation in the Palestinian territories.
The Federation has classified Palestine’s 259 football clubs into divisions. First division: 14 teams from southern governorates and 22 teams from northern governorates; Second division: 12 teams from southern governorates and 40 teams from northern governorates; Other divisions include 15 teams from southern governorates and 156 teams from northern governorates.
There is no question that the game of football is currently passing through a critical stage. Several factors influence its development and progress. First, the Federation and clubs suffer from acute financial scarcity, and the PNA does not allocate a special budget for them. In addition, the Israeli military checkpoints hinder the organisation of official championships, deterring the participation of teams from various parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The third factor is the lack of qualified coaches to train the teams. Moreover, the large number of teams in the West Bank impedes the development of the game. Finally, there are not enough football pitches that conform to international specifications.
In spite of all this, however, Palestinian football is capable of development and can compete both regionally and internationally. Officials are giving the game more attention, as is illustrated by the fact that the prime minister and the minister of sports and youth attended the last session of the General Assembly.
May the newly elected Palestine Football Federation, headed by Lieutenant Jibril Rjoub, achieve all possible success in developing the game of football in Palestine.
George Ghattas Elias Albedd is a former spokesperson of the League of Sports Clubs and the Preparatory Committee for the football federation. Until recently, he was the deputy director of the Palestinian Football Federation and its acting director.
Article photos are compliments of the Palestinian Football Federation