As the World Cup took place in South Africa, a football tournament of a much smaller size but of perhaps greater importance, was being played out in Israel.
The Football 4 Peace tournament was held during June and July in the Upper Galilee region of Israel. The tournament brought together one thousand children, aged 9-13 from 24 different communities. Nothing unusual there, you might think.
But the makeup of the participating children was special. Half were Arab and half were Jewish boys and girls, most of whom had never met a child from the other community. Initially reluctant to even shake hands, these children were brought together in teams to play football, helped and encouraged by forty volunteers from the UK and Germany. In planning the event, the British and German team leaders met with key partners in Nazareth, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, as well as visiting Bedouin communities in the south and Bethlehem in the West Bank.
During the two weeks of activities this summer, the Arab and Jewish children learnt to play together in teams, helping to build co-operation and understanding on both sides. The final of the tournament was held in Nazareth Elite, which suffers from strained relations with its neighbouring Arab town of Nazareth. It is hoped that the children who took part in the tournament have built life-long relationships, fostering better relations between the two communities.
The tournament in Israel helped Football 4 Peace celebrate its tenth anniversary. The organisation was started in 2001 as a joint collaboration between the University of Brighton, the Sport University of Cologne, the British Council in Israel and the Israel Sports Administration. Staff and students from the sporting programmes of the universities volunteer to teach and coach Arabs and Jewish trainers and children, so that football can be used as a way to bring communities together.
The F4P programme is politically totally neutral and its core values are ones of equity and inclusion between individuals of different backgrounds and cultures. Other key values espoused by the programme are respect, trust and responsibility. These values are particularly fostered by a team sport like football, which relies upon mutual aid of team players and self-sacrifice.
The F4P programme only started with 6 volunteer coaches and a plan to bring 100 children together. The scheme has doubled in size year on year, culminating in the huge tournament in Israel, which was a source of enjoyment and inspiration for its thousand young participants, as well as all the adults who helped make the event a success.