Barcelona FC, one of the most prestigious soccer teams in the world, will play a game in Israel against a team made up of Israeli and Palestinian players, President Shimon Peres and Barcelona’s president, Sandro Rosell, announced Thursday evening.
Peres praised the power of sports to teach people values. The planned game will be “a great celebration and a message for peace to us and our neighbors,” he said at a press conference in Ramat Gan. Children want to be like the Barcelona players, and this project can convey a “good and important message.”
“I want to thank you for coming on a mission that is not only football, but that is hope,” Peres told the Spaniard, adding that his team had already made history by giving “children all over the world hope and enthusiasm.”
Barcelona FC is the most beloved foreign soccer club in Israel and in the Palestinian territories, Rosell told reporters, praising Peres as a man who “has done much for peace.”
Barcelona is “more than a club,” the team’s president said. “Barcelona is a club dedicated to improving society, which believes in the value of sports.”
“There are universal values the club has always adopted. Football is a universal language that should be used to bring people together,” Rosell said. Barcelona hopes “this game will serve to extend the dialogue between” Israelis and Palestinians, he said, adding that “peace will be possible only if we build trust and faith between the two nations.”
The game will be part of Barcelona’s planned summer tour, during which the team will play several friendly matches outside of Europe, including a number of games in the Far East.
It’s yet to be decided whether Barcelona will face a squad comprising players from the Israeli and Palestinian national teams, or whether the team will be made up of other players.
For Israeli soccer fans, the game will present an opportunity to watch Lionel Messi, one of the best players in the sport’s history, work his magic in the Holy Land, and see him up close instead of on TV.
The Peres Center for Peace has held a number of soccer-based programs, bringing children together through the world of sports.
Barcelona, which is partially sponsored by UNICEF, has also shown its interest in promoting peace in the region. In 2011 the Spanish club hosted six children from Israel and the Palestinian Authority for one of its home games.
The game is scheduled for July 31, shortly after Israel finishes hosting the 2013 European Under-21 Football Championship, which will kick off in mid-June. A final location has yet to be announced.
Peres and Rosell stressed that the game was “for peace, not profit.”