x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

A champion's gesture

Barcelona's "peace tour" is a creditable gesture and a useful reminder that people have more in common that we sometimes remember.

It's harvest time for European professional football clubs, and especially the biggest ones - the time of year when a preseason exhibition tour can produce a bonus crop of profits.

So it is eye-opening and laudable that FC Barcelona, the current champions of Spanish football and by any measure one of the sport's elite teams, has taken time out to try, in their way, to prepare the ground for peace instead.

Lionel Messi and his teammates, fresh from drubbing a Brazilian side 8-0 at home, spent time kicking the ball around with young Palestinians and Israelis on Saturday and yesterday. The club was in Hebron and then Jerusalem on a "peace tour" stopover, en route to exhibition matches in Shanghai, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur.

So there were Messi and other Barca stars holding football clinics, first for Palestinian youngsters, then for Israeli ones. Even the thousands of young players and fans who couldn't get into the events were thrilled at the very presence of the top-level athletes, news reports say.

To be sure, it will take quite a bit more than sport star power and a few free jerseys to bring real peace to Israel and the occupied territories. All the same, Barcelona's "peace tour" is a creditable gesture and a useful reminder that even in that tense region, people have more in common that we sometimes remember.