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  May 15, 2013

Skateboarding: Gaza's newly established leisure sport

Gaza's young population in isolated Gaza connect with other young people worldwide through sport, this time through "skateboarding" but border restrictions and measures imposed by the local authorities in Gaza is a challenge
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Yousef Al-Helou is a Palestinian journalist and correspondent for The Real News Network based in Gaza-Palestine & London. His work has been featured in a variety of media outlets including BBC, GRN, CBC Radio Canada, TV New Zealand, UN Observer, Reuters Institute, Middle East Monitor, Press TV, Al-Etejah TV, Maan News Network, Electronic Intifada, Palestine Chronicle, PNN among many others. Yousef is a Reuters journalist fellow and a UN fellow as well and took part in many speaking tours in the UK/Ireland about his work experience, reporting in a war zone. Yousef covered the infighting between Fatah and Hamas as well as the two Israeli wars on Gaza in late 2008/early 2009 and late 2012, arrival of siege-breaking boats and many other major events since 2006. Yousef runs Gaza TV News page on Facebook that has more than 49,000 followers. Currently he is working on his research about the rise of citizen journalists in Gaza and their impact of public perception of Palestine in the West.


YOUSEF ALHELOU, TRNN CORRESPONDENT, GAZA: The Gaza Strip has one of the youngest populations in the world. But with overcrowded schools, an incredibly high unemployment rate, and a crumbling infrastructure, there are very few leisure opportunities for the Palestinian youth and children.

Skatejam, an international sports organization, wanted to come to Gaza and work with local people to create a resource that could be used by young people to introduce something new for recreation and to help young people in the Gaza Strip to connect with other young people around the world through a common interest.

After months of preparations, endless efforts, and weeks of delays caused by Egyptian authorities, members of this sports organization managed with the help of a local sport club to enter Gaza and build Gaza's first skate ramp.

ALEXANDRA LORT PHILLIPS, SKATEJAM: Well, the importance for us is that it's a small project and it's a connection between individuals and small organizations from different countries of the world. And it is important for us that we've come here to bring a new activity for the children of Gaza.

But we hope that really it's about communication between people, because skateboarding is internationally popular amongst young people. And we hope that the children of Gaza will be able to connect with other young people who are interested in skateboarding, and maybe skateboarders can come here and skate the ramp.

ALHELOU: This unique sports project targets hundreds of young people living in an abnormal situation, under an Israeli blockade where basic facilities are lacking and offers a means of resistance through recreation. Other sports, such as breakdancing or parkour, known as free running, are becoming more well known, as many participants of these sports are self-taught through the internet.

AYMAN ABU LEYLAH, AL-AMAL SPORTS CLUB, KHAN YUNIS: Skate4Life is the name of the project. It will help to entertain our children and give them the chance to learn a new sport, thanks to the British team who brought with them this idea and tools to build this ramp. The skateboarding helps children to get rid of psychological problems.

ALHELOU: In summer, Gaza's coast is the most congested leisure scene, with families seeking cool and a change in surroundings. Summer camps are organized annually for children after they finish their exams. However, not all sport activities are allowed in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

In March, the United Nations issued a statement cancelling their annual Gaza marathon because Hamas had forbidden women, both local and foreign, from running alongside men, a practice it had allowed for the previous five years. The local authorities said at that time that the marathon could go ahead if local traditions were respected. Conservative elements in Gaza have sometimes complained about gender mixing, especially in schools and sporting events.

A population already battered by devastating bouts of conflict with Israel and a six-year blockade will be squeezed even further, especially in light of some of the measures imposed by the local authorities on some sport activities. Seeking leisure in Gaza, especially for the youth, who comprise about 55 percent of Gaza's 1.7 million, is essential.

And certainly new sports like skateboarding will attract new fans.

Yousef Alhelou for The Real News, Gaza.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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