RAMALLAH, June 19 (JMCC) - Palestinian soccer has grown exponentially in recent years, with the construction of five stadiums and increased funding for the local federation. Next month, Palestinians will host their first ever World Cup qualifying match, reports the
The Palestinian Olympic team plays Bahrain on Sunday and on June 23 in the second preliminary round of Asian qualifiers for the 2012 London Games. And in the biggest match in Palestinian history, the main national team faces Afghanistan on June 29 and July 3 in first-round Asian qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
The improved football program jibes with the plans of political leaders, who have been trying to build the foundations of statehood outside the moribund peace process with Israel.
Leading the charge is an unlikely man, Jibril Rajoub, a gruff former West Bank security chief who spent 17 years in Israeli prisons. Rajoub left politics in 2006 and was appointed head of the Palestinian Football Federation and Olympic Committee two years later.
Sitting in his Ramallah office, where players greet him with kisses and he summons aides with a wireless buzzer, 58-year-old Rajoub said he uses sports to send a national message to the world.
We are like any people, he said. Sports for us are a part of achieving our national goals.