KEIR RADNEDGE reports from TEL-AVIV
—- Barcelona’s goodwill trip to the Middle East is back on again, this time set for August, despite cancellation of the original ‘peace match’.
One highlight of the Spanish champions’ visit to Israel and Palestine will be a visit to the Peres Peace Center here which uses football to bring together children from both Jewish and Arab communities in Israel.
The center was founded in 1996 by the current state President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres.
An apolitical organisation, it runs dozens of integrationist projects with sport taking up around one quarter of the workload.
In a football context, children aged six years and older from local communities mix together in a programme designed to teach them the principles of fair play.
The aim is to use football to cut through the barriers of fear and suspicion engendered by the political and military legacies of events in a divided land.
Directors of the center hope that the spirit of tolerance and understanding at an early age will, one day, influence society at large.
Barcelona’s stars – including World Player of the Year Leo Messi – will take part in the center’s football workshops during a two-day visit on August 3 and 4 which will include equally-balanced time inPalestine.
A statement on the club website said: “FC Barcelona, with the help of the Israeli government and the Palestinian National Authority, will organize in August the Barcelona Peace Tour, an initiative that will include two sporting events for peace in which children from Israel and Palestine will participate and in which all FC Barcelona players will be present.
“This project has been made possible thanks to the immeasurable collaboration of the Israeli and Palestinian governments.
“FC Barcelona has become a point of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. The Barcelona foundation has organized sporting events with the children and young people of both communities in the past and it will continue to do so in a persistent effort for peace, freedom and democracy.”
Barcelona president Sandro Rosell will fly over to finalise details next week.
Doubtless, the Palestinian federation will hope to use the visit to highlight the continuing problems posed by Israeli security restrictions over the free movement of athletes and sports equipment.
Earlier this month FIFA Congress voted to empower president Sepp Blatter to renew earlier efforts to press the issue with the Israeli government.
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