SAO PAULO: With sizable Middle Eastern communities and historic ties to the region, Latin America has seen football as an avenue to express support for the Palestinian people amid the Gaza war.
Palestinian flags have been seen in stadiums during matches, something that has at times been repressed by police.
That was the case with a game in Buenos Aires between River Plate and Talleres on Oct. 8. A River Plate fan waving a Palestinian flag was detained for entering the stadium with unauthorized material.
On the same day, a Palestinian flag was spotted during a match between Cruz Azul and Pumas in Mexico.
In Brazil, Palestinian flags have been seen in stadiums on several occasions. On Nov. 1, members of the Flamengo Antifascista movement waved Palestinian flags during a match with Santos in Brasilia. On Nov. 26, fans of Sao Paulo waved Palestinian flags during a game with Cuiaba.
“On social media, groups connected to Sao Paulo’s fans’ organizations received posts in support of Palestine,” Bruno Mitsu Ferreira, who manages a Sao Paulo fan page on social media, told Arab News.
“A major leader of one of the most important fans’ organizations is a vocal supporter of the Palestinian people.”
Outside the stadiums, football fans’ organizations have joined pro-Palestinian demonstrations — wearing the colors of their clubs — in major Latin American cities such as Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo and Santiago.
The strongest manifestations of solidarity with Palestine in Latin American football have been in Chile, where an estimated 500,000 people of Palestinian descent live.
It is the home country of Club Deportivo Palestino, founded in Santiago in 1920 by members of the Palestinian community.
Palestino and its fans have been demonstrating against Israel’s attacks on Gaza since October. But they are not alone.
Fans and athletes of other teams have also expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people on different occasions.
“Despite FIFA’s prohibition, many people in Chile have been exhibiting banners with pro-Palestinian messages and waving flags in the stadiums,” Nicola Hadwa, a Palestinian-born football manager in Chile who has trained Palestine’s national team in the past, told Arab News.
In a match with Nublense, Palestino’s players got onto the field wearing keffiyehs and black ribbons.
Before the game, they observed a moment of silence and got on their knees. Nublense’s athletes accompanied them.
In another match, Palestino’s leaders decided to leave part of the stadium’s seats empty. A banner in front of them read: “In memory of those who are not here anymore.”
Jose Sabat, manager of Club Deportivo Palestino’s academy, told Arab News: “It’s very important that we, footballers and coaches, always talk about the enormous injustice that’s happening in Palestine now.”
On Dec. 20, Palestino won the national junior league championship after defeating Magallanes.
Sabat, who is of Palestinian descent, dedicated the victory to the Palestinian people in an interview after the match.
“I’m immensely proud of exhibiting the Palestinian colors on our club’s jersey. I always try to make a small contribution and mention the events in Gaza (during interviews). We can’t get used to them,” he added.
Sabat visited Palestine in June in order to offer workshops to the young athletes who were training in academies linked to Palestino.
“It’s a shame to see so many children being victimized now. The effects of that catastrophe will be felt for a long time,” he said.
Sabat, who is a FIFA instructor, said: “Many people fear displeasing the football authorities by mentioning the Palestinian issue, but one needs to overcome that fear.
“I think more and more people will dare to talk about it. Football is part of our lives, as is Palestine. If I come to lose something for talking about Palestine, I won’t regret it.”