les presses du réel

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Between 2008 and 2009, with the World Cup approaching, I started to get interested in the world of amateur football. I was intrigued by its everyday existence, how the unflagging enthusiasm of the players compensates for the sometimes uncomfortable conditions of play, in France as well as in South Africa. Out of this experience came images that were deliberately unconventional, in which the sporting reality of the football grounds served to reveal an almost anthropological, social approach.
After the World Cup, once the roars of the crowds had faded away, I realized that despite a slight ebb in the media coverage and the negative dispatches about the downward slide of a degenerate and powerhungry sport – stories about showers of cash, scandals, betrayals – the inherent passion for the game of football never wavered in those who played it for personal reasons.
And during a trip to Israel for an exhibition of my French and South African work, I had the idea of pursuing my artistic enquiry into the subject. The Oxylane Art Foundation soon made this idea a concrete reality.
Almost every day, and for several decades now, Palestine has been in the news. But it's clear to all that this battered land, more fragile in the eyes of some than other constantly shifting areas of the world, is not often mentioned in the sports pages. Do they even play sports Palestine ? Yes ! What do they play ? Well, they play football, like everyone else. The difference being that even if the rules are the same, everything else is necessarily affected by such an unusual context.
Shaken by a tragic destiny, and still under military occupation, Palestine does not exist as an accepted and recognized nation. At least, not yet. But through their persistence and enthusiasm, the inhabitants of this “thrice holy” land prepare the ground for a nation to come. After years of active resistance, with costly and inhumane sacrifices on both sides, another project is emerging. The project of a people, young and conscious of their rights, full of renewed confidence in the future. A passion for football is part of this dynamic, expressed in many ways and in the most unusual places. Somehow, professional football survives, even if, lost in the depths of international rankings, its hopes of renown remain purely theoretical.
But through this modest window, I observed many things, carried along by encounters I feel were imbued with tolerance and humanity. I witnessed young women playing in shorts, their hair flying in the wind; bunches of children scouring the bushes for their lost ball ; sports symbols graffitied on walls, and a Prime Minister exercising on artificial grass where the seeds of sunflowers and lupins were strewn in rows.
After two intifadas, Palestine counts 19,000 registered players in a population of 4.1 million. Jibril Rajoub, President of the Football Federation (and former head of Yasser Arafat's security team), somewhere between self-determination and positive thinking, states that “today, the weapon of the Palestinian people must be sport. Sport knows no borders, no racism.” If reality could prove him right, it would be a beautiful win. For the whole world.

Amélie Debray

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