For the past two years, we have been training co-ed children's soccer teams in Akko; a Jewish team from the "Shazar" school, and an Arab team from the "Almanara" school in the old city. The children on each of these teams, ages 8-11, treat each other with respect. When boys and girls play on a sports team together without incidents of exclusion or discrimination, the message of equality can last a lifetime.
The two teams usually train separately but last Thursday, we brought them together on the beautiful new soccer field next to City Hall, at the entrance of Akko's old city. In the first part of the training the thirty-five participating children played various ball games using newly learned Arabic and Hebrew words. Learning one another’s language is an important step towards being able to play together—and much more. As the father of fifth grader Ahmed Majid said:
“It was a very special encounter. I watched from the sidelines and saw how my son was enjoying himself, playing hard, and meeting new children. I have no doubt that he is learning much more than how to play soccer here.”
The day ended with a game between the two teams. Axel Bernhardt, CEO of the SOL Foundation of Lichtenstein, served as the referee. The mission of the SOL Foundation is to “use the power of sport to contribute towards and to enhance the prospects of underprivileged and vulnerable young people by creating sustainable opportunities and by building flourishing lives and communities.”
At the end of the game, the students were photographed with a sign written in both Hebrew and Arabic that said "Sports: A Universal Language" to applause from friends and parents.
Through sports encounters with mixed genders and mixed cultures we are educating towards our values: inclusivity, equality, and shared existence. We agree with Ahmed’s father. Our students are learning much more than how to play soccer.