Palestine’s appearance at the 2015 AFC Asian Cup has been an achievement which has touched many hearts along the way.
Asian Cup qualification has brought hope for Palestinians all over the world.
For many Australian Palestinian fans like Mohammad Othman, football has been an avenue to express their emotion and connection to their home country. For Mohammad, it’s been an opportunity to create a connection within the Palestinian community by developing a Facebook page- Palestinian Supporters Group.
It’s the first time Palestine has played in a major tournament since joining FIFA in 1998.
THE TURF spoke with Mohammad last week:
“This is the first time we have been able to express our connection to Palestine. This is why we have seen such out poor for the team because of the struggles that Palestine has gone through. Having this avenue to support the team and in a way to support Palestine is a new experience for everyone”, said Mohammad.
Over the years, the national side has been forced to unavoidably juggle its erratic football schedule with its struggling political situation.
Palestine remains as the only footballing nation under occupation at this Asian Cup tournament. Many of their current players live in a war torn Gaza strip- an unimaginable life for a footballer.
The Palestinian national team has faced a constant backward struggle, incapable of crossing international borders to train, due to multiple gridlocked checkpoints enforced by the Israeli military.
The national side has been forced to play home games away from home and in many cases, cancel friendlies and World Cup Qualifiers. Palestine were denied any hope of qualifying for the 2006 and 2010 World Cups due obstructions caused by Israeli military. They also recently pulled out of their pre Asian Cup friendly with Iran just four days before they were scheduled to meet.
“When was the last time you heard of a player that couldn’t travel out of their home country? The fact that the squad and players had to deal with that makes it amazing and also sweeter that we are here participating” said Mohammad.
FOOTBALL CREATES HOPE:
Although all hope may have looked lost, Palestine managed to qualify for the 2015 Asian Cup after defeating the Philippines 1-0 in the AFC Challenge Cup final. The achievement was a shining light for the country, which has had to deal with the hardships of war and poverty for so many years.
There has been an overwhelming support for Palestine at the 2015 AFC Asian Cup. Supporters of Palestine have travelled the country, following their team around Australia and welcoming them to each city.
Mohammad’s Facebook page has been a valuable resource in organizing events and bringing together a wide community. It’s given the fans an opportunity to meet in a large group to welcome the players at airports, hotels and create an amazing atmosphere in the active support areas at games.
Mohammad also organizes a Palestinian futsal league in Melbourne. Each team is named after a Palestinian town giving the league a unique cultural vibe.
“Last season it was at RMIT Bundoora. It’s not restricted to Palestinians of course, but it was a way for us to get friends and youth together and connect with their identity”, said Mohammad.
For Palestine, this Asian Cup hasn’t been about winning games, it’s been about unity and creating a global awareness for the struggling country of Palestine. It’s not every day the Palestinian fans have had the opportunity of hearing their nation’s national anthem played at a major footballing tournament. It’s given the people something to cheer about.
“It has given everyone a welcome change from the usual bad news that we are used to getting from Palestine. It’s made everyone believe, it’s given everyone a chance to unite and get behind the team”, said Mohammad.
THE UNCERTAIN FUTURE AHEAD…
Due to the unpredictable circumstances in Palestine, the future is uncertain for the team. The players can only hope that they can find a way of training and playing on a consistent basis. Perhaps this competition has opened the door for their players to get scouted by overseas clubs.
The future is a mystery, but for now the players and fans of Palestine around the world can rejoice and celebrate an achievement that very few people thought was possible.
Let this article not be a discussion about terrorism or war, but about the power football has to create hope and change the lives of people around the world.
Palestine hopes to win their first game of the tournament tonight as they face Iraq for their final group match in Canberra tonight.