Spanish Team Tries 'Football Diplomacy'

If the shuttle diplomacy being conducted by the U.S. and EU to get Israel and the PA to talk doesn't work, there's always football diplomacy

David Lev and Gil Ronen ,

The Netanyahus with Messi
The Netanyahus with Messi
Israel news photo: Flash 90

If the shuttle diplomacy being conducted by the U.S. and EU to get Israel and the PA to talk doesn't work, there's always “football diplomacy.” That's the idea behind the visit to Israel by members of the FC Barcelona team, one of the top soccer teams in the world. Visiting along with the team is Lionel Messi, one of the biggest soccer stars in the world.

The team is in Israel for a two day “peace tour,” which culminates Sunday night in a practice game and soccer clinic in Jaffa with kids from Israel and the PA. On Saturday, team members held soccer workshops in Hevron and met with PA chief Mahmoud Abbas. On Sunday, they held a soccer workshop for kids in Tel Aviv, met with President Shimon Peres, and visited the Kotel. Peres, along with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, will be in attendance at the Sunday night practice at Bloomfield Stadium in Jaffa.

Netanyahu took part in a practice session the team held at Kfar Hamaccabiah. "We need to put Messi on our negotiations team and we will reach peace,” Netanyahu joked, referring to the team's superstar forward, Lionel Messi.

"The truth is that it is a little more complicated,” Netanyahu went on, “We all want to realize our human potential and to achieve peace.” 

Earlier, at a meeting with Peres, Barcelona team official Sandro Rosell said that the team was a big believer in the power of sport to resolve differences. “Football is a universal language that should be used to bring people together,” he said at a meeting with Peres. “Modestly FC Barcelona wishes to make itself available to increase dialog between the Israeli and palestinian communities. The best way to do that is with a ball.We hope the game will extend the channels of dialog to bring the communities closer together.”

Peres thanked the team for its efforts. “Barca is more than just a club,” he said. “Over the years you achieved the highest level of football. But more than that, Barca became a message of solidarity, of friendship, of caring for the weak. You became messengers of peace. You are loved by millions. And you offer your love to them, thank you.

“Sport and football in particular breaks down barriers, fights racism and creates a horizon of hope for all children in the entire world,” Peres said. “On the football field what matters is ability, teamwork and dedication. It is not the color of your feet but the speed and wisdom of their moves. In football there are no victims and always hope for the next match.”