In the Chilean city of Osorno, a group of Palestinian immigrants formed the Club Deportivo Palestino on the 20th of August 1920. For 32 years, the soccer club played in amateur leagues. In 1952, the governing body of professional soccer in Chile, La Asociación Central de Fútbol, permitted Palestino to compete in its first professional season in the Second Division, which the club won that very season. In 1955, Palestino, who had initially only allowed players of Arabic descent to compete on their squad, won the championship in the First Division with the help of several foreign footballers, such as Rodolfo Almeyda, Osvaldo Pérez, Carlos Rodolfo Rojas, and Roberto Coll. In 1988, their home stadium, El Estadio Municipal de la Cisterna, was built, which is still in use today.1
The soccer club from southern Chile recently qualified for the Copa Libertadores de América Tournament, generally abbreviated to simply the Copa Libertadores, having already completed two matches with a win and a loss, tallying three points in their group.1 However, Palestino’s impact resonates farther than just the pitch, but rather to Arabic and Jewish communities in Chile and Palestinian territories as well.
A neighborhood in Santiago, Patronato, is home to the largest Palestinian population outside of the Middle East, The Guardian reports. The Palestinian emigration to Chile occurred between 1900 and 1930 from cities such as Belen, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, and Beit Safafa. Palestino, founded by these very Palestinians during this emigration, is a source of pride for this neighborhood, as Palestino is also “the world’s only top-division club to sport the Palestinian colours,” and in January of 2015, the “1” that a player would wear on their jersey, if it contained the number, was changed to an elongated map of pre-1948 Palestine. However, Palestino’s direct Palestinian ties draw controversy with local Jewish populations, accusing Palestino of using their team’s heritage as a political maneuver to draw support for those in Gaza and Israel.2
Fortunately, Palestino’s efforts have not gone unnoticed, as the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, sent the team a letter describing the significance of Palestino to the Palestinian people throughout the world. From the letter:
I want you to know that we identify with Palestino as a second national team for the Palestinian people. You have lifted our colors and have given us a voice in the most difficult of times. You have given us happiness at the end of a year in which we mourn for the fallen victims in Gaza and Jerusalem; and messages just like yours demonstrate that despite all of the difficulties, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. You have demonstrated that no matter where we may be we are one people, be it in Jerusalem, in Beit Jala, or in Santiago.
Abbas’ words echo the sentiment of the entire Palestinian territories, that Palestino’s presence in the Copa Libertadores has a large impact on those in Chile and in the Middle East. Palestino is currently in the group stage of the tournament, and through two games have accrued three points (a win and a loss), and sit in third behind the Montevideo Wanderers on goal differential. The top two teams advance to the next round. Their next game is against the Montevideo Wanderers on March 10th.4
1. Historia. CD Palestino. 2015. Web. Mar. 2, 2015
2. “Chile’s Gaza sympathizers rally behind Palestinian football colours.” The Guardian. Dec. 4, 2014. Web. Mar. 2, 2015.
3. Retamal, R. “Una especial arenga: Presidente Mahmoud Habbas [sp] motiva a Palestino con una carta.” La Tercera. Dec. 20, 2014. Web. Mar. 3, 2015
4. Copa Libertadores 2015—Group 5. World Football. 2015. Web. Mar. 2, 2015