The star-studded soccer team Barcelona FC will host two soccer clinics for children in the Holy Land in August, one in the West Bank and one in Israel. The events, scheduled for August 3 and 4, aim to promote “peace between Israelis and Palestinians through the values of sport,” the club announced on Wednesday. But a planned exhibition match, pitting Barcelona against a joint Israeli-Palestinian team, has been cancelled because of Palestinian objections.
The soccer team is a favorite of both Palestinians and Israels and the visit will feature Barcelona’s leading players, including Lionel Messi, regarded as one of the best players to ever play the game.
“FC Barcelona has become a channel for dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians,” the team said in a statement. “The FC Barcelona Foundation has organised sports activities between the two communities in the past and is committed to continuing to do so as part of its ongoing effort to bring peace to the area.”
In February, the team announced that an exhibition match would take place between Barcelona and a team comprised of Israeli and Palestinian professional players, but that plan was put on hold after the Palestinians announced their objection to the plan.
“Because of the behavior of the Israelis, that targets sport and athletes, our movement is limited,” Palestinian football Association head Jibril Rajoub told Reuters in early May. “I believe that it’s too early to talk about a joint match because of the discriminatory behavior, even on the playing field, which is being practiced by Israel,’’ he said.
Barcelona said the August clinic plan was drawn up with the coordination of the Peres Center for Peace, the Israeli Football Association and the Palestinian Football Association and that “the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority will provide all necessary assistance.”
Also on Wednesday, the head coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv, Israel’s leading team, announced he was stepping down for “personal reasons.” Oscar Garcia, 40, is a former coach of Barcelona’s youth team.
Israel is set to host the Under-21 European Football Championship from June 5-18, with matches taking place in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Petah Tikva and Netanya.
Adaam J. Levin Areddy contributed to this report.