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Feb 16, 2011
Palestine Women's League, via http://www.the-afc.com

Kick-off game of Palestine Women’s League, via http://www.the-afc.com

With all of the dramatic events unfolding in the middle east over the past several weeks, you may be forgiven for missing this tiny revolution in the world of football.

On February 10, 2011, an estimated 8,000 spectators filled the Feisal Al Husseini Stadium in the West Bank to witness the opening match of the Palestine Women’s Football League. The league will support 6 teams.

Wilfried Lemke, the UN’s Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace, had this to say about the event:

“I very strongly support this important development of the launch of the Palestinian Women’s Football League. Today was not only a football match but a remarkable breakthrough in the advancement of gender equality in the region. For young children in the area, especially girls who have seen so much hardship in their lives, to see these young women and role models realizing their dream and playing football will be a source of inspiration and hope.”
- From “UN envoy on sport for peace cheers young Palestinian footballers“, www.un.org

Palestinian Football Association President Jibril Rajoub characterized the creation of the league as a “revolutionary step for women’s sport in Palestine”.

Lemke traveled last month to International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland to attend a meeting between representatives for the Israeli and Palestinian Olympic Committees. As reported by sportanddev.org, “…the IOC agreed to provide expert advice on developing a Palestinian sports development strategy, while the Israeli Olympic Committee agreed to offer training opportunities to Palestinian athletes.”

In the same article, Lemke commented that “[l]ast month in Lausanne, we saw the power that sport can have in bringing people to the table, to facilitate dialogue and to begin the process of cooperation and understanding.” More specifically, Lemke characterized sport as a “pragmatic and apolitical way [to] succeed where other more traditional means prove unsuccessful.”

Given the recent events and intense political upheaval in the region, it will be interesting to see the extent to which sports-based program continue to prove successful. In any case, it’s clear that effort has gone into the strategy. Sportanddev.org recently reported on no fewer than five sports development events taking place recently in the region.

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