Send the French to Gaza
Palestinian lads playing football amongst the rubbish: Gaza city. Photo (c) by Flickr user freegazaorg and used under a Creative Commons 2.0 licence
This may sound like a drastic and perhaps silly request, but there is a high degree of seriousness behind it. It is not an attempt to punish the French players, nor is it an invitation to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. This is a proposal for people-to-people diplomacy and a wish to see that over-paid footballers can do something more – besides complaining about bad training schedules.
Prior to the World Cup in South Africa there was a special World Cup in Gaza. The tournament took place on 1 to 15 May and consisted of 16 teams. The tournament was held for two reasons:
1) to show that all is not hopeless in Gaza and that football can contribute to reconciliation, and
2) to tell the world that they want to come out of isolation by peaceful means.
The tournament consisted of 200 football players from Gaza and 200 foreign players (from countries like UK, USA and the Netherlands and from various international aid agencies and news agencies) put together into 16 teams. The tournament was open to both women and men, and was sponsored by organizations such as the UNDP and Pepsi. Who won? France!
More than a football tournament
France beat Jordan in the final after a close match that ended 5-4 after extra time. The World Cup trophy France received in the victory ceremony was made of scrap metal left over from the bombing of Gaza in 2008/2009.
Jordan knocked out Italy in the semi-final and France beat Russia. The United States also played, but was defeated by Serbia in the first match. Yet the United States had widespread support during the tournament. The Gaza World Cup was not only a football tournament, but also big cultural gathering.
Yes to vuvuzela
Western media – including Norwegian journalists – have complained about the use of vuvuzelas during the football World Cup in South Africa. If vuvuzelas were used during the matches in Gaza, I do not know, but I'm sure everyone who was there would have appreciated the noise from this instrument. Both because it would have helped set the right mood in the stands and because it would have been a much nicer sound than the sound of the bombs that struck Gaza just over a year ago. As with the Zulus, this instrument could symbolize the hope of liberation from mismanagement.
The Gaza World Cup received little attention compared to the great hysteria surrounding the World Cup in South Africa. For this, there can be several different reasons: poor marketing, generally small interest in what is happening in Gaza, insignificant tournament, etc.
Maybe the tournament should have been given more attention, and this is where the French divas come into the picture. What if the French players went to Gaza to honor the Gaza World Cup, so that the population of Gaza saw genuine - though severely criticized - French players?
That would give the French players a different perspective on the lives they live behind self-constructed barbed wire fences in London and Paris, it would give the people of Gaza a signal that the world has not forgotten about them, and it would give the tournament in Gaza a higher status.
And maybe the team that won the Gaza tournament could show the French national team players something about teamwork and football skills. Maybe they even have something to contribute with in regards to coaching, too? Vive la France!
This article first appeared on Andreas Selliaas' blog 'Sportens Uutholdelige Letthet' on June 23 2010. Follow Andreas' blog (in Norwegian) on sportensuutholdeligeletthet.blogspot.com