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IC11 Preview - Peace Team returns

International Cup 2011

One of the teams present at this month's International Cup won't represent a country; making their return will be the (Peres) Peace Team. The team attracted attention both positive and sceptical in 2008, but with the AFL's approval of the team, the result with Israelis and Palestinians of Islamic, Jewish and Christian faiths pulling on a "Peace Team" jumper and representing unity in a region troubled with violence was seen as a positive one.

Including internationally recognised documentaries on the experience; and the flow on from the 2008 team still continues to resonate throughout corporate, communal, educational and political leaders throughout Australia and in parts of the world.

The Country and Australian football

The Peace Team is a team drawn from the Israel/Palestine region. Israel has a population of around 7.5 million, the West Bank has a population of around 2.4 million and the Gaza Strip has a population of around 1.4 million. The religious breakdown of Israel is about ¾ Jewish, 1/6th Muslim and the rest Christian and ‘other’. Languages include the official Hebrew, Arabic as used by the Arab minority and English as the most commonly used foreign language. There are often confused reports of population numbers and breakdowns across the region. The population of Palestinians is harder to determine, and a nation such as Jordan was in 2007 estimated that half of its 6 million population were Palestinian.

The AFL Peace Team is a mixed Palestinian-Israeli team that is organised by an Israeli and a Palestinian NGO (The Peres Center for Peace and Al-Quds Association for Democracy & Dialogue, respectively). It is the only team at the International Cup that isn't representing a country. The 2011 AFL Peace Team again comprises 12 Israeli and 12 Palestinian sportsmen. All excellent athletes in their own right, and including some returning from the 2008 squad to provide a base of experience.

Footy in Israel remains more at a social level, and as WFN reported recently, one familiar name in the squad is Doron Zauer, who is a long-term member of the "AFL in Israel" group which organises social footy in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

The 2011 squad began serious training preparations back in March. Again, bringing the team together for training sessions is a task in itself. Most of those involved in the management of the team have their own personal stories of tragedy and challenge that seem to provide them the extra energy and commitment to make this concept work.

Training included ‘moderated dialogue sessions’ as part of the bonding process. The squad includes both an Israeli team manager and a Palestinian team manager.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Compared to 2008, the inclusion of ‘experienced’ players adds a core leadership group both on match day and during the build-up through the training programme. The lack though of regular local competition is an obvious weakness.

The coaching panel again includes Robert Dipierdomenico, with Head Coach Kevin Nafte and assistant Coach Danny Brill.

Players to watch

Five players from the 2008 tournament are back again this year, including Kamal Abu Althom, Yonatan Belik, Kfir Kol, Abed Abu Raduan and Naseem Almanasra.

Kamal Abu Althom for example has played soccer form the age of 12 and was selected 3 times to play for the national Palestinian team, he continues to play and coach soccer. His experiences with the AFL Peace Team has allowed him to form strong relationships with the Israeli players and to this day he keeps in touch with some very good friends.

Yonatan Belik has played basketball, squash, cricket (for the Israeli national team) and European handball. He too listed the 2008 Peace Team experience as life changing, and now regards footy without a doubt as the BEST game in the world.

Form guide & Bottom Line

The team was ruthlessly challenged in 2008, however, on day 1 the biggest cheer around the Royal Park precinct was reserved for the Peace Teams first (only) goal scored on IC debut against Great Britain. Pitted in 2008 against PNG, Nauru and Great Britain, the pool results were far from flattering but to their credit the Peace Team managed a goal against each of their more seasoned opponents.

As the tournament progressed, the Peace Team found their standard, battling against Finland and China, with wins against each in the play offs. Granted the Finnish side was struggling with injuries and were no match for the Peace team in the 13th place play off match.

This time around, the Peace Team are grouped against the USA and Canada. Playing the early evening games on day 1, it’s hard to imagine the Peace Team progressing to Division 1. Most likely, the Peace Team will be contesting division 2 against the likes of China, India, France and East Timor. In this scenario, the Peace Team must be in with a chance and might back in their fitness to run out games as the tournament progresses. Of Interest

The team will follow up the Saturday first round of matches by spreading their message “Running for Peace” at the City2Surf in Sydney on the Sunday after. The team arrived in Australia on Wednesday morning.