Occupied territories | For Palestinian women, a field is a dream

Nevin Kleib, left, says that at a tournament in Alexandria, Egypt, she took off her headscarf to gain an edge on competitors. “The field was bigger and required more fitness and speed.” (Nasser Shiyoukhi | Associated Press)

Bethlehem, West Bank | Most of the players practice on concrete in Bethlehem, but the women’s team of the Palestinian Territories nevertheless hopes to represent its homeland next month at the Arab Women’s Football Championship in Abu Dhabi. Christian Science Monitor correspondent Amelia Thomas enumerates the barriers facing the women players, not least of which are the security checkpoints that regulate movement among disconnected zones under control of the Palestinian Authority. Because of the onus of travel, the team cannot reach the only grass pitch at their disposal. The pitch is in Jericho, 18 miles away.

Such challenges also prevent the Palestinian women from gathering as a complete unit. In fact, when the side gathered for the first Arab women’s championship in Jordan in 2005 many faces were unfamiliar. “It was a strange experience, the team playing a game without even knowing each other’s names,” says volunteer coach Emil Hilal (see also our report of 17 Apr 05).

A previous coach left the team following the required inspections that greeted the players on their return from the Jordan tournament. “Detained and interrogated for hours at the border by both Israeli and Jordanian authorities,” writes Thomas, “he found the experience too traumatic to repeat.”

The Bethlehem students also must contend with the prejudices and fixed gender roles facing women footballers in much of the world. Says Amira Hodaly, a physical-therapy student: “I feel powerful when I’m playing soccer. I started when I was 10, playing alongside my brothers. Now that I’m older, it’s less accepted than when I was just a child.”

Update

Karin Laub of the Associated Press (“Palestinian Women Claim Place in Soccer,” Dec 14) places the Palestinian women’s efforts within the wider Arab context and elicits the opinions of Sheikh Saleh Muattan, a West Bank preacher with a radio call-in show. He says that women’s soccer is not haram, or forbidden, but suggests that other games might be more appropriate. “Women can practice some sports which fit their nature and delicacy. I feel [soccer] is violent.”

Fourteen of the 20 members on the Bethlehem team are Christians, reflecting more liberal attitudes.

Scotland | Bizarre battle for Hearts and minds

Any enthusiasm for Lithuanian owner Vladimir Romanov has faded at Heart of Midlothian in Edinburgh (see also 1 Apr 06). Since acquiring the team early in 2005, he has added 23 percent to the club’s debt, initiated a coaching merry-go-round and—from his own fortune—bought Harry Potter‘s magic wand for £10,000.

Hearts has not won a game since Oct 1.

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