In the past four weeks have been less than kind to FC Barcelona (FCB).
Since the end of January 2013, Manager Tito Vilanova has been in New York undergoing urgent cancer treatment. Although a stoic FCB make provide frequent updates on Tito’s status and have repeatedly insisted his health is top priority, they are clearly feeling his absence.
Once-called the “best squad in the world” has been beaten in three out their last four matches. Initially they were stunned into humiliating defeat by AC Milan in the first leg of the Champion League series.
Followed by two losses to arch rivals Real Madrid in less than a week.
Immediately after these losses were the revelation that FC Barcelona had breached FIFA regulations regarding the transfer of minors that are in place to prevent child trafficking and exploitation. Although this announcement may not have affected the First Team directly, the Club Psyche would have most definitely been shaken and affected the players, many of whom have risen through the ranks of La Masia and been groomed since children to play for Blaugrana.
Perhaps the hardest hit taken by this prestigious club has been the recent rejection of their foray into diplomatic missions in the Middle East.
Football Club Barcelona had been revelling in praise and media attention for the recent trip of President Sandro Rosell and Vice-President Javier Fraus to Israel and Palestine in the end of February. It was their intention to propose a “Peace Match” between a Team of Superstar Players from FCB to play against a team of Palestinian and Israeli players.
Rosell announced the potential match at a press conference with Israeli President Shimon Peres. Rosell lauded the initiative as groundbreaking and stated: “Barcelona, wishes to… contribute to the effort to strengthen the bridges of peace and dialogue between the Israeli and Palestinian communities. The best way we can do this is with a ball”.
The match was proposed to be played this summer at National Stadium in Tel Aviv. After his visit and much photographed presser with Peres, Rosell then met with Palestinian Leader Mahmud Abbas in another presentation full of media and lauding and gifts of personalized jerseys and then with Palestinian Football Association (PFA) President Jibril Rajoub.
After meeting with the Palestinian leaders, it was quickly announced through several media outlets that the Palestinians had rejected the offer to play the epic “Peace Match” (The Washington Times, New York Times, and Hareetz).
PFA President Rajoub clearly stated “there are lots of obstacles” in reference to logistics, organizing, planning and accepting the idea of playing a match in Israel.
The most pronounced being that of Occupation of Palestine and strict restrictions on mobility, access, food, supplies and then the recent air strikes and attacks on Gaza City which had killed and injured dozens and destroyed much of the infrastructure including, schools, hospitals and the Gaza City Football Stadium.
To destroy the facilities of an oppressed population and discuss the possibility of engaging in a sport in a location that caused the attacks is unrealistic and quite frankly irresponsible. Had FCB helped and donated to rebuild the stadium and the facilities, and then perhaps play the match in Gaza, I could see how an olive branch would have been extended (pun and point intended). Had FCB had a solid history of development, interest and commitment in the area as Real Madrid has shown then again, one might be convinced that this initiative is a sincere effort.
The last time FCB showed any sort of effort was when they hosted a match at Camp Nou in 2005. On neutral territory. Not this time. The proposed match would be July 31, 2013 in Israel.
Playing outside of Israel poses another problem when Israel does not recognize the Palestinian Federation. How is it possible to play as a part of a team of two nations when one won’t acknowledge the other?
It can be deduce that FCB may not really be listening to the voices of the Palestinian people.
Particularly when President Rajoub has clearly stated there are three main “obstacles to overcome” and address before agreeing to go further.
These include the right for Israeli authorities to allow free movement of players (both teams) between Gaza and the West Bank for training and preparations; also that Israeli State officially recognizes the Palestinian Federation, which is already a FIFA member.
Before President Rosell and FCB begin to plan they must realize that these issues
FCB declared that Rajoub declared “There are still obstacles to overcome to convert this dream into reality”.
Palestine is an area that is recovering from destruction by Israeli forces in some parts. In addition a highly contested FIFA U21 tournament may be hosted elsewhere due to immense pressure from the global community due to the effects of the attacks on Gaza. Insomuch that a usually mum and ineffective FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, committed to rebuilding the stadium. Israeli football has also come under fire for the club that brewing with overt racist attitudes and actions against Muslim players. With all these points of tension ripe in the Israeli football community, it perhaps declining Rosell’s offer may have been on point.
Most recently the Al Arabiya News reported Rajoub’s interview with Reuters Television stating his full comments were in fact: “For us sport is a tool for spreading love, stability and co-operation with all the world. But the possibility of playing a soccer game with Israeli participants in the absence of Israeli recognition of a national Palestinian sporting body, in accordance with the Olympic charter, and in the absence of recognizing the right of the Palestinian sporting body to practice sport, I think without achieving all this, playing this game will not be possible.”
That is not a “maybe” it sounds like a very clear “No justice, No Football”.
Al Arabiya also reported statements from residents in Gaza who were vehemently opposed to the idea of a Peace Match with Israel at this time.
Perhaps, mobility, access to food, schooling and freedom from persecution and oppression may come before a “Peace Match”.
Although Barca prides itself on being Més que un club (More than a Club). I might suggest an early retirement from Middle Eastern diplomacy and perhaps focus on some of the challenges that lie at their feet…on the pitch.