Chile holds the largest Palestinian community outside the arab world: about 400.000 of the 17 million citizens are Palestinians or Palestinian descendants, and they all get along pretty well. How? Through soccer!
The first groups of Palestinian migrants arrived to Chile in the 1880’s, looking for a better lifestyle and later fleeing from the Ottoman Empire. Most of them were orthodox christians and came in small numbers, but as the community grew, it faced discrimination and racism from the Chilean people. So in 1916, a group of young Palestinians got together to find a way to bond with this new society, and decided to create a soccer team: Palestino.
It started as a small sporting club, that even featured tennis, but with the separation of Palestine by the UN in 1947, a group of young palestinians decided to turn the team into something bigger. In a matter of years, Palestino was already a champion of the first league. The years passed and the players were no longer exclusively arabs. Nowadays, almost all of the players are Chileans, trained by their minor leagues and wearing the colors of the Palestinian flag in their shirts.
In latin america’s soccer slang it is common to say that our favorite soccer team’s shirt is our skin. Palestine’s skin walks the Chilean streets. In the last years the team has turned into a symbol for the people in Palestine. While their country is constantly suffering, their flag waves proud in every stadium that Palestino plays in. The shirt shows the silhouette of their map before the occupation, and each time they classify to a major tournament, the name and the colors of the nation they represent is seen worldwide.
Many years ago young migrants thought of using a local sports to bond with their new society, and it worked. It became bigger than that. It was not the only factor to reach the peaceful coexistence they enjoy today, but it was a first step that can be easily be taken nowadays in so many similar situations. Game on.