FIFA grants Palestinian soccer $4.5m
Against a background of conflict, strife and economic hardship, the Palestinian territories hope a $4.5 million football grant can help reshape the world's view of this troubled region.
On Thursday world soccer's governing body FIFA announced it will help promote the growth of Palestinian football by establishing a youth academy and building artificial pitches in the disputed territory with the investment.
The academy will be in Al-Bireh in the West Bank, while the new pitches will be located in Tulkarem -- also in the West Bank -- and Al-Ram on the outskirts on Jerusalem.
The grant is part of FIFA's Goal program, which aids the development of football in emerging associations.
The Goal program is already helping with the construction of Palestinian Football Association (PFA) headquarters in Al-Ram.
"Our aim is to change the world's impression of the people of Palestine, highlighting our passion for football and sports in general," PFA technical director Mazen Khatib said in a FIFA statement.
In December, FIFA's finance committee approved a $200,000 investment for the reconstruction of a stadium which was destroyed in Gaza.
Gaza City's Palestine Stadium was bombed by Israeli forces on November 10 during combat operations on the Gaza strip.
The Israelis claimed rockets had been launched from the stadium, which was denied by Hamas' armed wing when contacted by CNN.
"It's quite remarkable the extent to which football has become a key tool to promote social development in Palestine," commented FIFA's director of member associations and development Thierry Regenass.
"It's our intention as FIFA to contribute to the implementation of an efficient football infrastructure, while fostering the general PFA structures and enabling Palestinian people to practice their favorite sport."
PFA president Jibril Rajoub welcomed the finanical boost at what he considers to be an exciting time for football in Palestine.
"PFA is starting a new era with the move to our new headquarters," explained Rajoub.
"We are confident that with the support from FIFA's Performance Program we will be able to properly implement our general strategy and train PFA staff accordingly."
The PFA was established in 1928 and it joined FIFA in 1929. In 2001 it entered the Asian Football Confederation.
Football in the area is set to receive a further boost in June, when Israel hosts the under-21's European Championships.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter is proud of the work his organization has done under his stewardship to develop football across the globe, having overseen the first FIFA World Cups in Asia (Japan and South Korea 2002) and Africa (South Africa 2010).
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