Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Playing under occupation: the limits and potential of Palestinian Football

By Marc Henry - July 23, 2018
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Football] [sport] [Occupation]

Not many outside Palestine know of the West Bank Premier League, also named Wataniya Professional League. After all, Palestinian football is only number 99 on the Fédération Internationale de Football Association’s (FIFA) official ranking list of football countries.

However, according to the Danish-Palestinian football player Ibrahim Badran, Palestinian football has a lot to offer.
The Palestinian defender joined the Jerusalem side Hilal Al-Quds for a five month spell early January 2017, leaving the Danish 2. Division and his studies in Denmark behind.
“I decided to join Palestinian football because of my Palestinian background,” Ibrahim Badran, whose parents are Palestinians with Lebanese roots told Palestine Monitor.
“I had never been to Palestine and didn’t know how life was there, but I had always dreamt of going there.”
“It was the perfect opportunity.”
A different kind of football
Having spent his youth in the academy of Danish Superliga Club Soenderjyske and his senior career in the Danish league system, the Palestinian way of playing football was quite an experience.
“In Europe, you learn about tactics and follow the guidelines set by your coach,” Badran explained.
“Here [in Palestine] the coach set the starting eleven [dividing the 11 players to start the game from the subs], and that’s it. While the players might not focus much on the tactics of the game, they have incredible technical skills. It’s clear that they have learned football on the street.”
However, is not only the game on the field that is different from the European style of football. According to Badran, players in Palestine are not as social as he has been used to.
“It was all about the game or the training, and then the players went home,” Badran said.
Potential and limitations  
Palestine is now ranked 99 in the world by FIFA, but the country has been higher on the list. In 2017 Palestine overtook Israel and came in at 82nd place while the Jewish state fell to 98th.
“I know that the Palestinians were very proud and held their heads high because of the ranking. It was really important for the players,” Badran said.
While Israel has moved up in the rankings and overtaken Palestine once again, there is still much potential for the future of Palestinian football. Especially the West Bank Premier League has a great potential according to Badran.
“It is incredible that a country with so few resources can create a football league where almost all players are full-time professionals,” Badran tells.
However, the football player also sees limitations for Palestinian club football. Naturally, the occupation sets limits for the further development of the Palestinian league system.
“I see much potential in the league, both in the players and in the clubs, but also in the economy. However, the occupation might limit the opportunities for further developments.”
According to Badran, the Israeli occupation might limit the clubs abilities to develop their medical and physical departments as they find it hard to get the right permissions from the Israeli authorities. Furthermore, the many checkpoints across the separation wall make it hard for football players to make it to both training and matches.
“There are so many Palestinian players on the Israeli side of the wall, but with all the checkpoints it can take hours to go for a training session. I think many players get fed up with the waiting time and simply just quit playing football on this level,” Badran explained.
His own experience with the checkpoints “was a tough experience.”
“You felt really unwanted when you had to be checked so many times. When going for an away game, I was often being checked at the checkpoints even though I had a Danish passport and was travelling with players with Israeli passports. Other times when playing a game in Bethlehem we could go straight through Jerusalem while other players had to go round. That’s two to three hours on a bus rather than 20 minutes through the city.”
National team first – then the league
While Ibrahim Badran appreciates the Palestinian West Bank Premier League and acknowledges its potential, he is in no doubt that the national team is more popular.
“When we played local derbies or finals we would have a full stadium. Otherwise, the stands were not really full. We did have a group though, that always was there, and when we walked around Jerusalem, I experienced that people knew who we were,” Badran said.
On the other hand, he feels the national team seems more important.
“People love the national team, and it has a special place in the hearts of the people. The league doesn’t have the same appreciation, but for some, it is important to spend the weekends watching a game in the stadium. However, the national team is definitely the most important for the Palestinians.”
However, the Palestinian West Bank Premier League is somewhat important for the national team. As so, most of the national players are playing in the league. Something that is a bit unusual in international football.
“It is fascinating they all play in the league. That is also why it is important that the league keeps a great standard and tries to develop. However, it is also hard for Palestinian players to play abroad due to their passport, so in many ways, the league is so important for Palestinian football,” Badran said.
While the Danish-Palestinian football player is currently in Turkey trying to find a club, Palestine is still an option.
“I got the option to stay, but right now it is not a possibility. However, I am not closing the door to Palestine. Once I have ended my studies as a physiotherapist in Copenhagen, I might come back and combine football and work. Life and football in Palestine is so amazing despite the occupation,” Badran said.
Lead photo: Ibrahim Badran (blue) in action for the Palestinian side Hilal Al-Quds. Source: Facebook/Ibrahim Badran.

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