With spirits full of determination and will, a group of short-statured individuals challenges all physical and societal difficulties to achieve their dream of reaching international levels. Inside one of the enclosed gyms in the Gaza Strip, a team of short-statured footballers conducts intensive training with the objective of forming the nucleus of the first short-statured team in the Gaza Strip. They are preparing to participate in various tournaments abroad.
Mohammed Zaqout, the coach of the Palestine team for short-statured individuals, says, “The idea of establishing a team for Palestinian short-statured people began in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, where the ‘Altanwiei’ team was created. This idea was later transferred to the Gaza Strip, leading to the formation of the ‘Palestine’ team. The Palestinian team for short-statured individuals comprises players from both clubs.”
“At the beginning, the team consisted of only three players, but as the number grew, people started to watch the exercises with enthusiasm. Short-statured individuals were encouraged to come out of their homes, and their psychological condition improved as they watched their young teammates play football. We started with three players, and today we have 12 players,” he added.
The team’s players span an age range from 11 to 40 years
Moreover, the team has successfully gathered individuals from various regions across the Gaza Strip, including Sheikh Radwan, Shati, and Nuseirat camps, Deir al-Balah in the central part of the Strip, Khan Yunis in the southern part, and Jabalia camp in the north. The team’s players range in age from 11 to 40 years old.
The formation of the team came after three years of efforts by “short-statured people” who searched for a platform to pursue their dreams. They faced numerous financial and technical obstacles, but after these years of dedication, they were able to establish an integrated team with dreams of representing Palestine in tournaments worldwide.
Expressing the team’s ambition, Zaqout says, “We endeavor to encourage all short-statured individuals to come out of their homes and join us. This is their inherent right; they are just like everyone else and should not be marginalized in society. We also aim to address the issue of bullying against the short-statured team. Furthermore, we aspire to proudly represent Palestine in international forums and eagerly anticipate participation in international and national teams outside Palestine.”
However, many obstacles stand in the way of achieving this dream. The team faces numerous physical, psychological, and societal challenges, as well as constraints on leaving the Gaza Strip.
Zaqout continues by stating, “The most significant challenges we face include a lack of financial resources, difficulties in securing transportation and moving from one place to another, and the fact that most team members live in different parts of the Gaza Strip. Additionally, we have limited training time and a shortage of available playing fields.”
Travel Restrictions Keep Gaza’s Unique Football Team Local
It is noteworthy that the team has been denied the opportunity to leave the Gaza Strip to participate in tournaments held outside the region. For instance, the team was unable to travel to Morocco for a tournament due to the high travel costs and Israel’s 17-year blockade of the Strip.
Captain Alaa Miqdad, known as the Clown Alloush in the Gaza Strip, aims to convey the team’s vision by saying, “We have a message for the world: in the Gaza Strip, there is a marginalized group of short-statured individuals who play football skillfully. Unfortunately, we face many challenges both inside and outside the Gaza Strip.”
Miqdad also highlights the team’s difficulties by saying, “Inside the Strip, we have only one training day a week, whereas we require intensive training to improve our fitness and skills. Externally, our handicap is that our presence in the Gaza Strip has prevented us from participating in tournaments such as the Morocco Championship or the Argentine Championship.”
Miqdad hopes for opportunities to participate in upcoming tournaments in Asia and Egypt. He also wishes for stakeholders to support them in gaining recognition worldwide.