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Palestinian team primed for 'dream' Hangzhou trip

Updated: 2023-09-13 07:32
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Beach volleyball squad determined to defy odds amid troubles at home

GAZA — Racing against time, a beach volleyball team from the troubled Gaza region in the Middle East has been busy training for the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou.

The squad, comprising four athletes and a coach, told Xinhua they have been practicing eight hours a day as they prepare to represent Palestine in China.

"Even though we know very well that our mission of medaling in China will not be easy, we are really chasing the honor," Gaza-based athlete Abdullah Al-Arqan told Xinhua.

The 20-year-old said he has dreamed of representing Palestine in a global championship since he was a child.

"I started to play volleyball when I was 6 years old as I used to attend matches with my father, who was the most famous volleyball player in Gaza," he said.

"I had a dream of lifting a trophy in this sport and I told my father about it. My father encouraged me to follow my dream and do my best to achieve what I want through volleyball."

However, Al-Arqan's thin build meant he had to work extra hard to pursue his dream, while the unstable political and economic situation in the Gaza Strip, home to more than 2.3 million people, also dampened his spirits.

"From time to time, I thought I would never reach my goal, mainly because I live in a war-torn area and witnessed four large-scale military operations and regular fighting between armed factions," he said.

"Every time we survived death in each conflict, I felt that it was another message to me that I have to continue my plan and work a lot to realize my ambitions."

Adopting a healthy lifestyle, Al-Arqan decided to take matters into his own hands and improve his physique by attending sports classes at local gyms.

In 2018, he joined Al-Sadaqa club in Gaza to play beach volleyball against other local teams. It wasn't long before Al-Arqan was racking up the medals, becoming renowned for his tactical astuteness on the court.

Al-Arqan represented Palestine at Arab tournaments, bagging bronze medals at two competitions in Qatar, in 2022 and 2023.

"I was so proud of myself as well as my team which was born from suffering," Al-Arqan said. These competitions allowed Al-Arqan and his teammates to look forward to more breakthroughs and successes.

"The latest magic win in Qatar encouraged me to make a greater effort to compete at the Hangzhou Asian Games and raise the Palestinian flag in a country I had always dreamed of visiting someday," he said.

He added that he considers China a country that inspires others to improve and develop their lives.

His father and coach, Khalid Al-Arqan, is proud to see his son follow in his footsteps.

"For many years, I had hoped that my son would compete for Palestine on the international stage, just as I did in 2018 when I participated with my teammate at the Asian Games," Khalid told Xinhua.

"Visiting China improved our playing skills, and we learned how to organize ourselves."

The 50-year-old said that he was delighted to represent Palestine for a second time in China, adding that he was keen to add to his coaching knowledge by competing against Asia's best.

The 19th Asian Games will take place from Sept 23 to Oct 8 in Hangzhou and other cities in Zhejiang province, with over 12,000 athletes taking part.


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