Five Palestinians cheering for France at the World Cup 20 years on

French football fans hold a minute of silence to mark the one-year anniversary of the November 13 Paris attacks ahead of the 2018 World Cup group A qualifying football match between France and Sweden at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on November 11, 2016. Images: FIFA.com

By Marwan Bishara

Twenty years ago, I was asked by the General Council of the Parisian suburb Seine-Saint-Denis to invite four Palestinian youth to attend the World Cup in France and to organise their visit.

At the time, football was the last thing on my mind. I was finishing my doctorate in France, doing my research on Israel/Palestine and, in between, participating actively in human rights campaigns.

But then, this wasn’t just about football and the World Cup. It was also about an act of solidarity and fraternity that French progressives wanted to undertake.

READ MORE: Paul Lewis: Why the world needs France to win the World Football Cup

So, I accepted the mission, only to realise that this would turn into an experience of a lifetime for me and for the lucky four who made it from Palestine to Paris.

In order to pick the four young Palestinians, I ran a lottery in a weekly newspaper called, Fasl Al Maqal, published in Nazareth but distributed throughout Palestine. I ended up with four lucky winners from the Galilee, the West Bank and Gaza.

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The French consulate in Jerusalem was just as excited as we were and issued the visas rather swiftly to enter France. That was the easy part. Leaving Israeli-controlled Palestine was another matter.

At every checkpoint we had to pass, we were stopped and questioned. At Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, it was even worse.

More harassment
Once the security officers heard where we were going and what we were going for, their jealousy transformed into more questioning and harassment.

The winner from Gaza was not let in on the flight. The poor guy had to turn back, go to Rafah, cross into Egypt and fly to Paris from Cairo. He, too, made it in the end, albeit a bit late.

Once in France, we were accommodated in a youth facility in a suburb west of Paris along with youth from France and elsewhere. As my Palestinian companions kicked around the ball with their French peers, their only common language was football and that’s all they needed to communicate.

When we made it to the Stade de France stadium, located in Seine-Saint-Denis, for the semi-finals between France and Croatia, to our surprise, we found out that all five of us were in fact VIP guests at the council’s special suite.

It is difficult to describe the scene of four young men who had never been outside their camp, town or homeland being introduced to Parisian elegance.

Imagine, young Palestinians in jeans and sneakers and with a big passion for football walking into the VIP lounge of Stade de France and mingling with the French elites and international celebrities.

Imagine them strolling across the lounge, past beautiful hostesses, and onto the open balcony that overlooked the pitch where 22 football superstars were lining up to the cheers of 80,000 fans.

Best French cuisine
And that wasn’t all, for me at least: The menu featured the best of French cuisine and wines. As the guys cheered, I ate.

When the match started, one of the Palestinians whispered in my ear: “Isn’t this just a perfect place to plant a Palestinian flag?” And it was. One of them had brought a small flag along just in case so we put it up.

Our French hosts were generous and gracious with the Palestinian boys. And the most excited and passionate among them was a progressive French Jew. He was also the funniest. This added yet another twist to our journey, for until that moment a couple of my travel companions had never met a Jew who wasn’t a soldier or a settler.

And here they were – on an exciting trip, watching a World Cup match, in an amazing city, at a spectacular stadium, hanging out with wonderful people.

Oh, and what a match it was! France beat Croatia 2-1 in a thrilling 90 minutes!

It was our win too. It was heaven on earth. There was no fear, no hate, just bonheur.

And it went on. Three days later, on July 11 we went to the playoff for the third place at the Parc des Princes stadium where Croatia beat the Netherlands.

Back to reality
After that match, the reality came back to the Palestinian four, as we began to prepare for the departure. One or two began to wonder why they had to leave, or more accurately, how they could go back, how they could live a normal life after all they had seen.

But this wasn’t going to be the end of the wonderful trip. I had a surprise for them: We were going to the World Cup final! We were going to see France and Brazil play. They just couldn’t believe it.

My ticket from the 1998 World Cup final between France and Brazil. Image: Marwan Bishara/Al Jazeera

July 12 was an unforgettable day. The match was exciting. Zinedine Zidan scored twice, France won 3-0. But it seemed the sweetest victory that that day belonged to my young Palestinian companions. They saw it all and they were going to tell and retell that story for decades to come.

After the game, we went to Champs Elysees to celebrate along with thousands of French fans until the early hours of the morning. One of us even got a French kiss.

When in Paris, you kiss and tell. And what happens at the World Cup doesn’t stay at the World Cup.

Now there was an urgent need to go home and tell the story about a dream come through.

I think about these young men and those glorious days every four years when the World Cup kicks off. And I bet, these four Palestinians, who are now grown-up middle-aged men, will be rooting for Les Bleus today, just like I will.

Dr Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera. This article is republished with the author’s permission.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Cook Islands, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu win medals at Games

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Cook Islands, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu win medals at Games

Celebrating Pacific successes at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. Image: SBS

By Stefan Armbruster of SBS News

Three countries that have never won a medal in Commonwealth Games history are celebrating after bagging bronze in weightlifting, javelin and lawn bowls competitions on the Gold Coast.

A quarter of the 71 teams entered the 21st games medal-less, but now Vanuatu, Cook Islands and Solomon Islands have joined the ranks of podium-finishers.

While the Commonwealth winners circle is getting wider, 15 competing teams have still never won a medal at any games.

READ MORE: Commonwealth Games coverage

Friana Kwevira, from Vanuatu, won bronze in the para-athletics womens F46 javelin. Image: SBS

Friana Kwevira, javelin (Vanuatu):
On Monday night, Friana Kwevira won bronze in the para-athletics women’s F46 javelin and then had a sleepless night.

“I didn’t sleep until two o’clock, they were all say congratulations, you make us proud of you, your family and your island too, as well as your country Vanuatu,” she said.

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The shy para-athlete only took up the sport 10 months ago and she is now Vanuatu’s first ever Commonwealth Games medalist.

She said she wants to empower women – especially those with a disability – back home.

“Don’t look at disability, look at your ability, you can do it as I have. If I can make it, you can make it,” she said.

Her eyes are set on an even bigger goal: the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Lawn bowlers Aidan Zittersteijn and Taiki Paniani have won bronze. Image: SBS

Aidan Zittersteijn and Taiki Paniani, lawn bowls (Cook Islands):
Taiki Paniani, 19, and Aidan Zittersteijn, 20, made sporting history by claiming bronze in the men’s lawn bowls pairs, clinching the first ever medal for the Cook Islands.

“I guess a lot of elderly people, a lot of older people play it but the sport name is ‘lawn bowls’ not ‘old people’s lawn bowls game,” Paniani told Māori Television.

“To play against top players is actually a real good experience and it shows me and it shows the people back home we need to lift up our standard or our standard is pretty good and we just need to add a little bit more”.

Jenly Wini is the woman behind Solomon Islands’ success. Image: SBS

Jenly Wini, weightlifting (Solomon Islands):
Jenly Wini is the woman behind Solomon Islands’ success, lifting the country to victory in the 58kg weight division earlier in the games.

“It speaks to the whole relevance (of the Games), not just of the high-performance athletes, in terms of world record holders and achievers and Commonwealth record achievers, but also where this plays in the development of sport across the Commonwealth,” said David Grevemberg, CEO of the Commonwealth Games Federation.

“The Commonwealth is a great platform for that, the more we can do that consistently from games to games to games, the more legitimate the games become and the more credible the Commonwealth is as a movement.”

These Pacific nations are now inspired after stepping up in into all-time medal ranks.

“It means we have a lot of potential into the future and if we invest more resources into it we’ll be able to better results more medals,” said Vanuatu chef de mission Mike Masaovakalo.

Stefan Armbruster is Pacific correspondent of SBS News. This SBS article has been republished by Asia Pacific Report with permission.

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Tongan ban on girls playing rugby and boxing ‘not our policy’, says Pohiva

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Tongan ban on girls playing rugby and boxing ‘not our policy’, says Pohiva

A ban on girls playing rugby in state schools in Tonga has polarised public opinion. Image: Matangi Tonga Online

By Kalino Latu, editor of Kaniva News

Tonga’s Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva disagrees with a decision by his Minister of Education to ban girls from Tonga High School boxing or playing rugby.

He said the decision was not in line with his government’s policy.

“It is the government’s responsibility to provide opportunities for all the students to participate in all sports,” the Prime Minister said.

“It is for the individual students and their parents to decide whether or not they should participate in a particular sport like rugby and boxing.”

Education Minister Penisimani Fifita and his education authority had imposed the ban.

Meanwhile, a former Catholic principal said that if Catholic schools agreed with the Ministry’s decision it would be “a disgrace” for the church.

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Fr ‘Aisake Vaisima, who was principal of ‘Apifo’ou College before he left Tonga for Fiji for a new role in January, told Kaniva News the Catholic church’s education authority had not banned its school girls from taking part in boxing and rugby.

The comments came after a controversial letter from the Ministry of Education and Training was leaked to news media, sparking an outrage that polarised international news as far away as New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Majority not affected
It is understood the ban does not affect the majority of school girls in Tonga, especially at the church and private schools which are attended by 90 percent of all students in the kingdom.

In the letter, an education authority told the principal of Tonga High School, a government-sponsored institute, that a decision had been made by the Director of Education to ban its girls from participating in rugby and boxing.

The letter, which was written in Tongan, was dated March 15.

It Tongan it said:

“Ko hono ‘uhinga he ‘oku fepaki ia mo ‘etau ‘ulungaanga fakafonua ki hono tauhi ke molumalu ‘a ha’a fafine, ‘o taau mo e tala tukufakaholo na’e fatu’aki ‘a e fakava’e na’e fakatoka talu pea mei ono’aho ‘o kehe ai ‘a Tonga pea mei ha toe fonua ‘i he Pasifiki pea mo mamani.”

This translates into English as: “The reason is because it is against our culture to keep women dignified so it still upholds the tradition of which its basis had been set out since the olden days making Tonga exceptional in the Pacific and the world.”

Prime Minister Pohiva, said the letter from the Ministry of Education and Training to Tonga High School “purporting to ban girls from participating in rugby and boxing is not Tongan Government policy,” his office said in a statement this afternoon.

“Sports is good for the health and the wellbeing of the people and this government, like previous governments, actively encourages the participation of every Tongan student in all sports without discrimination.”

International reaction
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has expressed her disapproval over the ban.

Ardern said New Zealand’s aid support for sports in Tonga would not be threatened, but she disagreed with the directive.

“As a school student I played touch rugby and I would encourage all young women to engage in whatever sporting code they are interested in,” Ardern said.

“We provide funding via MFAT to Tonga to encourage children’s participation in sports. A young woman will still be able to do that through their villages, even if this dictate is made by these schools.”

The New Zealand-funded Sports for Health Rugby Programme was launched at Kolomotu’a Community Rugby Field in February.

Known as Quick Rip, it was intended to focus on girls and boys aged 13 – 18 years of age.

New Zealand provided NZ$4 million to support efforts in four Pacific countries, including Tonga, to reduce the rate of non-communicable diseases in the Pacific.

Some people on Facebook supported the ministry’s move and said rugby and boxing were sports for men only and Tongan girls should not take part in them.

Kaniva News has a sharing arrangement with Asia Pacific Report.

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Latest France rugby crisis sparks sense of deja vu for Les Bleus

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Latest France rugby crisis sparks sense of deja vu for Les Bleus

Just as they did in Frédéric Michalak in 2001, France have put faith in a teenager who can act as a shining light at a time when darkness surrounds Les Bleus – Matthieu Jalibert. Image: L’Equipe

By Jack De Menezes in Paris

French rugby is going through a difficult period. The national team lacks direction, the head coach has just departed and has been replaced by a man tasked with triggering a revolution, the team are being given little to no chance of winning the next Rugby World Cup and the hopes of a nation lie on a 19-year-old half-back.

No, this isn’t the present. This is the start of the millennium, but the similarities to the 2018 Six Nations are remarkable.

For Bernard Laporte and Frédéric Michalak all those years ago, now read Jacques Brunel and Matthieu Jalibert.

But while there are a scary number of similarities, the big difference is that Laporte took over a side that had won a Six Nations Grand Slam double in 1997 and 1998, three years before he took the top job.

Brunel arrives with France having not won the title since 2010, and if they fail to cause the biggest of upsets this year, they will match their longest barren run since returning to the championship in 1951.

Despite the job appearing to be a poisoned chalice before his arrival, the vastly successful and experienced Guy Noves was sacked after just two years in the job following a string of “unacceptable” results.

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To top things off, the French Rugby Union (FFR) are taking legal action against Noves for alleged “serious misconduct”, and last week their head office was raided by French police investigating Laporte – now the FFR president – regarding an alleged conflict of interest arising from his relationship with Top 14 side Montpellier.

Shining light
To say that French rugby is in a state right now is putting it lightly.

But, as they did in Michalak all those years ago, France have a teenager who can act as a shining light at a time when darkness surrounds Les Bleus.

Since Michalak made his debut in November, 2001, France’s roll call of fly-halves reads as follows: David Skrela, Francis Ntamack, Julien Peyrelongue, Alexandre Peclier, Francois Trinh-Duc, Lionel Beauxis, Thibault Lacroix, Jean-Marc Doussain, Camille Lopez, Remi Tales, Jules Plisson.

No pressure then, Matthieu.

Jalibert arrives on the international stage short on experience but big on potential.

This may be an exercise in blooding Jalibert for bigger challenges in the future given he has just 15 Top 14 appearances to his name, but then they don’t come much bigger than facing the Ireland in Paris in the Six Nations.

France have only lost one of those since 2001, and an expectant Parisian crowd does not anticipate a second tomorrow regardless of the state of the national team.

“We are not favourites but we hope that these two weeks we will have constructed a spirit or state of mind which will permit us to compete well, Brunel said.

“I am very happy that people either think we are not very good, even dreadful or just rank bad, and regarded as the fifth country in the tournament. That suits me very well.”

In other Six Nations games this weekend, Italy plays England in Rome and Wales faces Scotland.

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Glittering time at Toulouse, but Novès’ sacking smacks of scapegoating

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Glittering time at Toulouse, but Novès’ sacking smacks of scapegoating

Guy Novès … “his sacking smacks of scapegoating … after two decades of terrific rugby his Toulouse teams gave to us all.” Image: NewsDuJour

TRIBUTE: By former Planet Rugby editor Danny Stephens

Not three hours had passed since last week’s message from Queen Elizabeth II said she was “…hoping that they [the French] rediscover their swagger” when the news broke that Bernard Laporte had ended Guy Novès’ attempts at helping the French do just that.

It was news that, in all probability, has ended Noves’ rugby career unless Toulouse come calling once more. A one-club man, he spent 13 seasons on Toulouse’s wing as a player and 22 years orchestrating the team in that famous one-kneed coaching posture (not forgetting a couple of years prior as an assistant).

His time in charge of Toulouse was nothing short of glittering: nine championships, four Heineken Cups and a pair of runners-up medals for each tournament as well. He was responsible for probably three of the great generations of French players emerging and dominating – the first of Califano, Pelous, Castaignede, Ntamack the second of Servat, Elissalde, Michalak, Jauzion, Clerc, the third with Maestri, Dusautoir, Picamoles, Medard.

He was considered for the national job after the 2007 World Cup, but declined the offer to stay with Toulouse.

It wasn’t the first time he had declined the national team either: he ended his own international playing career.

After declaring himself not yet recovered from a thigh injury ahead of one match, the selectors didn’t pick him again when he did declare fitness before the next. He promptly quit, alleging a lack of contact and respect from the federation.

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His decision to reject the national team and stay with Toulouse in 2007 smacked of lingering bitterness from that, as well as giving the impression that he simply wasn’t interested in anything outside la Ville Rose.

Embodied Frenchness
Yet, he embodied Frenchness. His unique and mildly eccentric coaching posture, his perpetually well-groomed appearance (tracksuits looked stylish on him) and weighty antipathy toward the English – he once ended a radio interview with the words “I’ll take no lessons from the English” – all combined to leave you in no uncertain terms where he came from, as did his occasional explosions of temper; he was led away by police after the Heineken Cup win in 2005 when stewards refused to let his family onto the pitch to celebrate with him.

But it was a strange last decade. He seemed unable to find a fourth generation to bring through at Toulouse, up against the stiffer competition that other clubs imported and finding no way to cope with the increasingly attritional demands of the French season.

Toulouse looked outdated by the time Novès relented to take the national job.

He could not find selectoral consistency in the national team either, rarely his fault. Having started out looking to impose his own philosophy of forward bullies allowing graceful backs to play, combinations of injury and club/country overlaps left him returning to a more direct game, not his natural inclination.

And as a coach who loved to let his players express themselves, the international level playing structures seemed to be too antithesis, while the inconsistencies in selections – again, rarely his fault – also left him unable to achieve that which he had been able to at Toulouse.

Capacities for his teams to wow
But whatever the recent criticisms thrown his way, nobody should forget what Novès contributed to the game of rugby at Toulouse, the abilities and calibre of player he developed and nurtured, the capacities for his teams to wow.

That should be a legacy that lasts far longer than his time in charge of a national team governed by a national rugby framework in desperate need of a large shake-up.

His sacking smacks of scapegoating in some ways – which should be another reason Noves should proudly disassociate himself from the FFR and reflect on two decades of terrific rugby his Toulouse teams gave to us all.

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Sika honours Tongan heritage as police warn ahead of World League semifinal

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Sika honours Tongan heritage as police warn ahead of World League semifinal

Fifth Harmony singer Dinah Jane will sing the Tongan national anthem before kick-off in the World Rugby League semifinal with England today. Image: Kaniva News

By Kalino Latu, editor of Kaniva News

The president of the Mate Ma’a Tonga Rugby League Association has turned to Tongan tradition in announcing the attendance of King Tupou VI and international Tongan singer Dinah Jane at the Tonga-England semifinal at Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium today.

Sēmisi Sika said his committee made the invitation to make sure the national team and Tongan supporters enjoyed the historic event to the full.

In Tongan he said: “We have plucked down the stars, moon and the sun for you so that you can calm down and become satisfied.

“Let’s focus on supporting our MMT in their battle and may we all put together our efforts so we can bring about a great game for the Conqueror of the Nation.”

[“Kuo tau paki’i mai e fetu’u , mahina mo e la’aa ke mou nonga aa mo fiemalie . Tau hanga taha ki hono poupou’i e tau fanau MMT i he feinga tau mo fakatauange ke tau ma’u ha fakame’ite fakaholo mamata ki he Hau o e fonua.”]

The poetic references were meant for the king, the queen and all invitees.

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Fifth Harmony singer Dinah Jane will sing the Tongan national anthem before the kick-off of the Rugby League World Cup semifinal match.

Among other invitees were Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva and other local VIPs, Sika said.

Tagata Pasifika
John Pulu of TVNZ’s flagship Pacific current affairs programme Tagata Pasifika has been invited to be master of ceremonies.

The invitation from the Tongan Rugby League committee was also extended by the chairman of the Rugby League World Cup 2017, Dr George Peponis Oam and the Rugby League World Cup CEO Andrew Hill.

No Pacific nation has ever made it to a World Cup final, but Tonga is hoping to become the first.

Tongan winger Konrad Hurrell said: “It was our first quarterfinal last week and this is our first semi-final as well – imagine if we make the final, it would be crazy.

“That would be good but we’ve got to knock out England as well to make the final.”

Australia crushed Fiji 54-6 yesterday in the first semifinal.

Police warning
Meanwhile, Auckland police have warned they will not tolerate disorderly behaviour following this weekend’s rugby league game.

Police will be out in force on the streets tonight in an effort to keep the public safe and prevent any disorderly incidents, Counties Manukau East Area Commander Inspector Wendy Spiller said.

Over the past few weeks, police have dealt with a number of disorderly incidents following Tongan league games on the streets of South Auckland, particularly around the Otahuhu Town Centre.

On two occasions police officers have been attacked while trying to manage and contain the disorder, Inspector Spiller said.

In one incident last weekend in Otahuhu, a female police officer from Counties Manukau was king-hit and knocked unconscious by a male who then disappeared into the crowd.

“Police will not tolerate this violent and cowardly behaviour,” Inspector Spiller said.

“Our hard-working staff come to work every day to keep our communities safe and the last thing they deserve is to be attacked or harmed.”

Inspector Spiller said the injured officer was yet to return to work, but was making a good recovery.

“Someone out there knows who is responsible,” she said.

“We will do everything we can to identify the offender and hold them to account.”

Anyone with information is urged to contact Counties Manukau Police on 09 261 1300 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Flagpole attack
A second police officer who was struck in the face with a flagpole in a separate disorderly incident several weeks ago has only been able to perform light duties since returning to work.

Police have arrested a male in relation to that incident.

With a large number of people expected to take part in festivities over the weekend, Inspector Spiller said police would have additional staff on duty to monitor crowd behaviour and ensure the safety of the public.

Alcohol would be banned in and around the Otahuhu Town Centre and police would not tolerate violent or reckless behaviour.

“We want people to keep themselves safe,” Inspector Spiller said.

“People acting recklessly and putting themselves and others at harm by riding on vehicles or setting off fireworks in crowded areas will not be tolerated.

“It is important that excited fans do not block streets stopping traffic.”

Asia Pacific Report republishes Kaniva News items by arrangement.

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