The former star French footballer Lilian Thuram today visited the occupied Palestinian territory in support of an education programme funded by his country through the United Nations relief agency for refugees living in the area.
Mr. Thuram toured the Qalandia refugee camp in the West Bank where he saw first hand the realities of life for Palestinian children under Israeli occupation, before visiting a school run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to referee a football match between some of the camp’s young players.
With hundreds of young students gathered in the school before kick-off, Mr. Thuram joined in with a traditional “dabke dance,” drawing massive applause.
Mr. Thuram said the visit was about his own education as well as having fun with Palestinian children.
“I have heard so much about the children of Palestine and about the environment they grow up in. Today I saw for myself their enthusiasm and determination to succeed against all the odds. I just hope they enjoyed our training session today as much as I did,” he said.
Mr. Thuram made sporting history by becoming the most capped player in the history of the French national squad. He was a member of the country’s 1998 World Cup-winning squad and also played for the top European clubs FC Barcelona and Juventus. Off the pitch, he has dedicated much of his time to the promotion of human rights and education against racism.
“Lilian is a living football history,” said UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness. “It is brilliant that UNRWA school kids had an opportunity to be coached by him today, and witness his extraordinary skills first hand. Lilian is just the sort of role model our students should be inspired by, and we are very grateful to the Palestinian Football Federation and the French Government for facilitating his visit,” he added.