Clinging to a metal fence around a Ramallah training ground, dozens of wide-eyed youngsters looked on in awe as the stars of Palestinian soccer limbered up on waterlogged synthetic grass.
Nearby, the settlement of Bet-El loomed as a stark reminder of the conditions that have always prevented their team from playing in front of their fans on their own territory.
Now soccer is finally coming home — more than a decade after the creation of the game’s own Palestinian ruling association — and a fever is sweeping Ramallah and the rest of the West Bank in the build-up to today’s international friendly between Palestine and Jordan.
The first match to be played on home soil by the national team is being heralded as a much-needed diversion for tens of thousands of fans who will watch the game on television or at the venue in East Jerusalem itself.
After a loosening of Israeli restrictions and overcoming FIFA’s reluctance to sanction matches under hazardous conditions, Palestinians are finally getting ready to host their Jordanian peers on a pitch a stone’s throw from the concrete blocks of Israel’s security barrier.
Rami Rabi, a star of the Palestinian side, was quick to point out its significance: “It’s not just a friendly game between us and Jordan, it allows us to show the world we exist as a nation.”
Rabi, 26, noted that home advantage, as well as “the occasion [itself] means that we have a chance of winning. Whatever happens, we intend to give the fans two hours of happiness to forget about their problems.”
These problems encroach on fans traveling across the West Bank to support their local soccer teams.
“There was a recent game involving a team from Nablus who were playing in Jericho, in which three bus loads of supporters were stopped at a checkpoint on their way back to Nablus,” said Xavier Abu Eid, 24, a Palestinian involved in preparations for the event. “The army decided to shut the checkpoint, meaning the entire group had to sleep on the coaches, unable to return home until the soldiers unlocked the gates at 6am the next day.”
Security restrictions have once again been stepped up across the West Bank in the wake of the stabbing of two Israelis by a Palestinian man in Jerusalem on Thursday. Fans from surrounding towns could find it more difficult than usual to make it through the checkpoints and roadblocks for today’s game.
The only concession made by the Israeli authorities for the match day has been to allow Palestinian security forces to police the stadium in Ar-Ram — an area usually off-limits to the Palestinian constabulary. Otherwise, the Israeli security arrangements will be “business as usual,” Palestinian officials said.
The squad has been weakened by Israel’s refusal to grant entry visas to several Palestinian players living in countries including Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. Furthermore, six players living in Gaza have been prohibited from entering the West Bank to play Jordan.
Roberto Bishara, a Palestinian player living in Chile, was challenged as he tried to cross into the West Bank. According to Abu Eid, Israeli security forces asked him “how can you be playing for the Palestinian national team when there is no Palestine?”
That most of Jordan’s players are professional and the Palestinians part-time at best is reflected in their FIFA rankings — Palestine 180th, Jordan 112th.
Alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayad, FIFA president Sepp Blatter will lead today’s pre-match ceremony at the new Faisal Husseini Stadium, funded by FIFA’s Goal Project, which helps developing countries improve their soccer infrastructure.
Chen Jifang hits the gym for at least two hours every day and has the physique to prove it. At nearly 70, she is being held up as a shining example as China orders its vast population to get fit and lose the bulge. The grandmother from Shanghai has become a minor celebrity in in the past few months after her newfound and unlikely love for working out made national headlines. After becoming a gym regular in December 2018, Chen lost 14kg in three months, and now sports the kind of flat stomach and toned muscles that people decades younger aspire to. She
’SO CONSISTENT’: The victory gave the world No. 1 and world No. 2 a 21-1 win-loss record and their fourth title of the season after successes in Brisbane, Dubai and Doha Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Sunday cruised to their fourth women’s doubles title of the season at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome in their first tournament back since the suspension of the WTA Tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The top seeds took just 63 minutes to complete a comprehensive 6-2, 6-2 victory over unseeded German-Romanian duo Anna-Lena Friedsam and Raluca Olaru at the Foro Italico. It was the Taiwanese-Czech pairing’s first outing since they won the Qatar Open in February. “After five months, you don’t know what to expect,” Strycova told the WTA Web site.
ANOTHER SCANDAL: Searches focused on several riders, including Dayer Quintana, a source said, while the two being held were reportedly a doctor and physiotherapist French police on Monday detained two people as part of an investigation into suspected doping in the Arkea-Samsic team at this year’s Tour de France, prosecutors announced. The probe is the first significant one in several years for the repeatedly scandal-hit tour, which on Sunday wrapped up in Paris with a victory for 21-year-old Tadej Pogacar, who became the youngest winner in more than a century. Prosecutor Dominique Laurens in Marseille said in a statement that an investigation was being carried out into a “small part” of France-based Arkea-Samsic, without specifying who had been placed in custody. Laurens added that the two
Former MLB pitcher Wang Wei-chung has signed the biggest contract with a local team in Taiwan’s professional baseball history, the Wei Chuan Dragons said yesterday. The 28-year-old left-hander signed a five-year US$2.08 million contract with the Dragons, team chairman Hsu Wen-fang told a news conference. It is the biggest contract in the CPBL’s 31-year history, surpassing a three-year, US$1.36 million deal Lin Chih-sheng signed in 2016 with the CTBC Brothers. Although the overall value of Wang’s deal set a new record, his average monthly salary of NT$990,000 (US$33,886) is lower than Lin’s pay of NT$1.2 million per month in 2017