Israel-Palestine "Peres Peace Team" one step closer to IC 08

Monday, December 03 2007 @ 08:34 am ACDT

Contributed by: Aaron Richard

Melbourne's The Age newspaper reported this morning that business leaders, representatives of the AFL and board members of AFL clubs would meet tonight to pledge funds to make the Peres Peace Team a reality for next year's International Cup.

Although footy has had an on-again off-again presence in Israel for well over a decade, the team would require training young athletes from scratch, with only 9 months to have a team ready for the cup. Reportedly, the side will be based around soccer players, with expat Australians coaching in Israel and the AFL providing clinics when the team arrives in Melbourne.

Support from the Melbourne end looks promising, with the Melbourne Jewish community having a long history of support for Aussie Rules, as has more recently the Melbourne Arabic-speaking community.

Full text follows:

Israelis and Palestinians to play side by side
Peter Hanlon, The Age, December 3rd 2007

TEACHING a group of athletes to play Australian Rules football in nine months is an immense task. Yet when that team is made up of Israelis and Palestinians, coming together to demonstrate the power of peace, the seemingly impossible cannot be discounted.

Over dinner in the Deloitte boardroom tonight, business leaders, AFL representatives and board members from several clubs will pledge funds to add an 18th entrant to the field for the International Cup next August, under the banner of the Peres Peace Team.

The quasi World Cup of Australian Rules, to be contested in Melbourne and Warrnambool, is a key element of the league's 150th anniversary of football celebrations. The AFL's commitment to developing the game overseas increases annually, but even the boldest plans did not include something like this.

"The AFL has a proud track record in using our game to build communities in indigenous and multicultural communities here and increasingly overseas," chief executive Andrew Demetriou said. "The initial approach (regarding the International Cup) was a surprise, but we think it is a great initiative and a great way to send a strong message about the power of sport to unite communities."

The idea came about when Demetriou's brother, James, visited Israel in April. While in Tel Aviv he visited the Peres Centre for Peace, a non-political, non-profit organisation established in 1996 by Israeli president Shimon Peres, which promotes peace through business, education, culture and sport.

Upon returning he met with Tanya Oziel, executive director of the Peres Centre's Sydney-based Australian chapter. A self-confessed "AFL junkie", Ms Oziel jumped at the chance to forge a relationship, and her enthusiasm resulted in an invitation from the league to field a team.

"If it happens it will be just amazing," Ms Oziel said.

Sport is one of the Peres Peace Centre's biggest platforms, with a combined team of professional soccer players making history in June when they played a 'Peace Match' against Spanish champions Real Madrid in Israel. "It was a really bad time for Palestinian people, with all borders closed, and against that backdrop we got 400 Palestinian kids into Israel to be part of the game," Ms Oziel said.

Soccer players will form the foundations of the football team, with expat Australians expected to help with coaching in Israel, and the AFL assisting with a coaching program here.

Demetriou conceded the time frame was tight, but said the International Cup was more about participation than finding the next superstars of the game. "We will be doing everything we can to ensure the team representing the Peres Peace Centre is as competitive and ready to play as the emerging team from China," he said.

The Pratt Foundation will get the ball rolling tonight by pledging $60,000 of the estimated $300,000 required. "It's going to be a very interesting team," said foundation chief executive Sam Lipski. "Trying to get Palestinian, Arab and Israeli kids together to play football, it's quite an achievement."

The growth of the International Cup, which has been held in 2002 and 2005, has led to the creation of two divisions, with the Peres Peace Team to join China and India in the second division.

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