Palestinian women can be better footballers than menOctober 23rd, 2008 - 2:12 pm ICT by IANS
Ramallah, Oct 23 (DPA) For three years Gina Khnouf, 18, played football at her school in Ramallah.Today, a fresher at the Birzeit University, she is an important player in the newly-formed women’s futsal (indoor football) team at the First Ramallah Sarriya Club.
Playing football, she says, “is a challenge because in our Arab society everyone thinks football is only for men.”
She decided to break this taboo and prove that women can even be better players than men.
Sitting on the bench watching one of her teammates score during a practice match against Ramallah’s leading men’s futsal side, she tells Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) that her family not only supports her decision to play, but even encourages it.
“They did not listen to what their friends and other people have said, that football is a men-only game and that it is not fit for women,” she says.
Like her other 11 team mates, Khnouf is now preparing for the first-ever Palestinian women’s futsal league games. The matches will kick off Sunday in the presence of FIFA president Joseph Blatter, who will arrive the same day in the Palestinian areas to inaugurate two new football fields and kick-start a couple of football matches.
“I am very excited about these games,” Khnouf says. “These are our first league championship games and this means that from now on we are going to be recognised and respected football players.”
A futsal game lasts only 15 minutes each half, with only five players per team on the pitch, although up to 12 players per team can be used in a match.
The closed-in field is less than half the size of a regular football field and it has rules that are relatively different to football, even though the play is identical and organised under FIFA regulations.
FIFA has decided that all member states should also have league games for women. Palestine has been a FIFA member since 1998 and women choose to play futsal, instead of regular football, mainly because the Palestinian areas did not have proper football fields until this year.
Simon Salameh, the Sarriya women’s futsal team director whose daughter is also in the team, says his group started from zero only a few years ago, and now does well in area league games. In their latest regional games in Jordan, the Palestinian team finished fourth.
The first Palestinian women’s futsal team started at Bethlehem University, quickly followed by two other women’s teams also in the Bethlehem area. They played friendly games against each other and in Arab countries.
They were then followed by two more teams in Ramallah and Jericho, before women athletes in Arab East Jerusalem decided this year to put together a women’s team in a hurry.
With six teams in the Palestinian areas, the Palestinian Football Association was able to organise the first women’s league games which will kick off Sunday.
On the same day Blatter will inaugurate two new fields built with FIFA financial support, supervision and standards. One is located in al-Bireh, Ramallah’s attached city, and the other is in south of the city, just outside the Israeli-designated Jerusalem city limits in an area that is supposed to be part of the future Palestinian state.
The inauguration of the Jerusalem-area field, named after the late Jerusalem civic leader Faisal Husseini, will also witness a friendly match between the Palestinian and Jordanian national teams.
Blatter is expected to kick-start that game, which is the first official international game played in the Palestinian territories.
Since the match is going to be held just outside Jerusalem city limits in an area that is still under Israeli military jurisdiction and not too far from an military outpost, the Palestinian Authority had to coordinate security arrangements for the presence of President Mahmoud Abbas and FIFA officials with the Israeli government.
But Palestinian national squad members from the Gaza Strip did not receive permission to come to the West Bank leaving the team without several of their leading players.
In spite of the political complications on the ground, the football games, whether for men or women, will go on and Palestine hopes to prove itself as a nation deserving to live through these matches.