soccer diplomacy

September 25, 2013

For the past week the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup has enraptured Tahiti. There have been sell-out crowds at the To’ata stadium in Papeete and a carnival atmosphere has pervaded throughout the famed holiday destination. Normally, however, the sport which garners the most attention in French Polynesia is va’a, the traditional Polynesian paddling pastime. Now the two events have merged on one special afternoon on Papeete harbour.

Citing Afghans’ “exuberant” display of national unity and pride at the war-wracked country’s victory in a regional football championship as a “welcome sign” on the gradual path to normalcy, the top United Nations envoy there today also pointed to other recent political and security gains despite major challenges.

Sepp Blatter has admitted FIFA may have made a “mistake” in the initial proposal to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar during the summer but stressed that moving the tournament is the governing body’s prerogative. Blatter, the FIFA president, has said on several occasions that he wants his executive committee to move the tournament to the winter as temperatures can reach 50°C in Qatar in June and July. The matter will be discussed at a board meeting on October 3.

Barcelona’s “Peace Tour” of Israel and the Palestinian territories reached its climax on Sunday evening with Lionel Messi and his teammates putting on a display of skills and training techniques in front of 12,000 children. As Messi juggled the ball, thousands of Israeli youngsters in the crowd at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv cheered his name. Dozens of young Israelis, including Israeli Jews and Arabs from the Peres Center for Peace, took part in the training session alongside Barcelona’s stars, including Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta and new signing Neymar.

When Barcelona meet Brazilian side Santos in a friendly on Friday at the Camp Nou, there will be a quick dash to the airport afterwards. They’ve got places to be. People to see. Peace to spread. On Saturday afternoon Barca will be in the Middle East as part of their Peace Tour initiative, as Lionel Mesi, Neymar and a whole host of stars will visit Palestine and Israel over the weekend.