Sports Club in Gaza is a Slam Dunk
The first and largest sports club in Palestine builds a new legacy for sports development throughout Gaza.
Located on the beach front in Gaza and established in 1934, the Gaza Sports Club is the gold standard for athletic spaces in Palestine. It includes fields and tracks to host soccer, tennis, basketball and running competitions and tournaments. New artificial grass and a rehabilitated indoor hall extends the season so the club can be operational year round, reducing cancellations due to the weather.
Dalia Nassir, 21-year-old professional Palestinian basketball player and coach, still remembers the sound of rainwater dripping from the cracked rooftop of the old Gaza Sports Club onto the rundown wooden floor. She started playing basketball at 14. “I can picture my younger self in my school uniform holding a basketball I couldn’t dribble,” says Dalia, “because the one and only available court was in use or flooded with the gifts that winter weather brings.”
Ismail Madhon can relate to Dalia’s story. “I remember the deteriorated, uneven soccer field and mud holes that created real risks for injury,” says the 35-year-old old goal keeper and Palestinian team captain. “Often, my team would come to soccer practice in the morning only to be chased away by a pack of stray dogs that lived in the unfenced area.”
That was before the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) supported Anera in completely upgrading the club to include a high boundary wall, an 7-A soccer field, an indoor basketball court, and – for the first time ever – a brand new 5-A soccer field, outdoor basketball/volleyball court, tennis courts, and a running track.
The club has seven youth and adult basketball and five soccer teams, along with a few martial art programs. With the additional new sport facilities, the club will add more and create new female and male sport teams including volleyball, tennis and running. The inclusive club promotes women's equal participation in their chosen sporting activities. It is also fully accessible for persons with disabilities, including the installation of handicap-accessible bathrooms for the first time ever.
“We never had running tracks in Gaza so you would just see people running alongside the cars in the streets and just hope the runners wouldn’t get hit by any of them,” says Dalia. With a newly renovated track, runners are able to exercise safely. “It is a huge track [700 square meters] and can accommodate a lot of people at once. Most of all, it’s safe,” she adds.
Ismail has been with the club for 12 years and says it has come a long way. Before the renovation, in winter, the club would rent out other soccer fields around Gaza so players could continue to play during the off season. “We suffered a lot before this upgrade. The poor field conditions made it very hard to play,” said Ismail.
News of the upgraded sports club is spreading fast. “I’ve been playing here for seven years and I have never seen the club up to this standard. We’ve never received so many phone calls and had this amount of visits from people and families wanting to join,” said Dalia.
The club serves nearly 4,000 people each year, but it is likely that another 1,000 to 2,000 new members will join. With the additional profit from memberships, the Gaza Sports Club will start hosting events and expanding its services. “We already had meetings and discussed hosting upcoming tournaments because we now have a safe and state-of-the-art field to play on,” Daila told us. “With these new facilities, it will generate revenue as more people will join the club,” she added.
Meanwhile, Ismail comes to the club now even when he doesn’t have practice. “There’s a different mood in the air. It is a new feeling. I feel refreshed when I play, I feel alive.”
Dalia agrees. “This club is my second home and I would love for the rest of my family to join and practice the sport they desire,” she says, dribbling the ball on the shiny new court. “And it’s like the saying goes: willpower and desire, when properly combined, make an irresistible pair.”