GAZA CITY: Religious conservatives have forced the cancelation of a football match for young girls in the Gaza Strip, describing it as an attempt to “replace the hijab with shorts.”
The pressure led to the cancelation of the match for girls aged nine to 12 from the Rafah Services Club and the Rafah Youth Club, which was scheduled for Thursday. Scholars and clerics criticized the match, calling it a “moral disgrace.”
Hani Abu Kush, a board member of the Rafah Services Club, said it wanted to hold the match as part of a sporting project.
“This is a project that started several months ago and included training for girls aged nine to 12. The match was like a graduation ceremony at the end, but the media uproar made it a big event,” he told Arab News.
He said that the club currently did not have any girls’ teams and all that was being done for girls was with external funding.
Abu Kush said he understood that holding matches for girls would be objectionable as “we are a conservative society, but this was a match for young children who are not professional soccer players, and there was no reason for all this fuss.”
Majdi Al-Maghrabi, one of the hard-liners in Rafah, wrote on his Facebook page: “We were informed that this match was canceled at the request of the governor of Rafah.”
He added that “we all hope that these women’s teams will be dissolved”, and accused Fatah member Jibril Rajoub of running a “sabotage project for women’s sports in the Gaza Strip, which aspires to lead our girls to replace the hijab with shorts.”
While his comment drew support, others objected by saying “these are just children.”
Palestinian sports in general suffer from a lack of funding and interest, according to those in charge of the clubs in Gaza, and there is not enough funding for the existing men’s teams.
“The current lack of funding and the financial suffering of the clubs in the Gaza Strip prevent them from developing the capabilities of the existing teams, and prevent them from forming women’s teams in the Gaza Strip,” Abu Kush said.
There are no permanent women’s football teams in Gaza unlike in the West Bank, and women from Gaza are not part of the Palestinian national team.
Alaa Al-Amour, a female football coach, told Arab News: “There is a clear lack of interest (from officials) in Gaza for women’s sports. There is no funding, and clubs in the Gaza Strip are not interested in women’s teams. The federation also does not show sufficient interest in supporting women’s teams.
“All the activities that happen for women in Gaza are part of initiatives of civil institutions or projects that are funded by international and external parties only.”
Al-Amour was a coach with a girls’ football team that traveled to Norway recently, and after the end of the funding, training for that team was stopped.
Female players, whether in training or matches, wear modest kits that do not violate the customs and traditions of the Gaza Strip, and the age groups involved do not exceed 17 years, said Al-Amour.
“We face many obstacles, the most important of which is funding, as well as community pressures that sometimes do not allow girls to play football. In addition to that, Israeli obstacles prevent communication between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“The last time the team I trained participated in a West Bank match without my participation as a coach.”