Last weekend, the British government refused to grant visas for the Palestinian Under-19 Youth Football team to travel to Britain for a prearranged tour. The team were due to play against teams from Cheshire County FA, Chester City FC, Tranmere Rovers FC, and Blackburn Rovers FAC. The original reason given was that the Israeli authorities would not allow the players to return to Palestine. The embassy later stated that due to the poor economic situation in Gaza the authorities were afraid that the players would abscond. The organisers say the youngsters are very disappointed at the decision. Tour organiser Rod Cox, said: "This was a unique chance for the Palestinian youth team to improve their skills by taking part in international football, and also to boost their morale and allow them to see that many people in the UK are supportive of their basic rights to travel freely and to take part in sporting activities and contests." Catholic journalist Ged Naughton, who has first-hand experience of working with youth football teams said he was saddened and concerned at the news. He told ICN: "I'm currently working on a project called Consett the World, which is aiming to bring football teams from Liberia, Peru and Hungary to Consett next year (Sept 2008) for a football tournament, so we'll be looking for visas in the next year. "Consett the World is a grassroots partnership of community organisations, schools and faith groups, working together to bring an experience of the outside world to the young people of Consett. I also worked on the CAFOD-organised tour by the Millennium Stars from Liberia, (a team made up of former child soldiers) in 1999. "It's a shame that politics have stepped in and spoilt this plan, but we're in danger of turning Britain into the selfish giant's garden. A football tournament is an event that brings people together; it gives young people the opportunity to learn about themselves and others, and to learn about their global responsibility to change things for the better. "The Millennium Stars who toured the UK in 1999 came from one of the poorest countries in the world, but they understood that they were coming as ambassadors. By the end of the tour, they were looking forward to returning home to let their families and friends know their successes. And when they did, they were greeted with pride as national heroes." While the Palestinian Under-19 team has been refused permission to visit the UK, the Israeli national football team is scheduled to play against England at Wembley as part of the Euro 2008 qualifiers on 8 September. The organisers of the youth team are still hoping the British authorities will allow them to come and play here too.
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