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NEWS: US coach promotes wheelchair basketball in Gaza

574c3aaa45b2c.imageA top U.S. coach is in the Gaza Strip to help set up the territory’s first female wheelchair basketball team.

“I think for Gaza this is a very unique thing,” said the trainer, Jess Markt. “I think there are not so many opportunities for women to play sports here, and particularly for disabled women.”

Markt, 40, was a track athlete until 21 years ago when he suffered a severed spinal cord in a car accident. Three years later, he began playing basketball and in recent years he has coached wheelchair teams in Afghanistan, India and Cambodia.

In 2015, the International Committee of the Red Cross brought Markt to Gaza to train local referees and coaches. Now, he is back to train players and organize tournaments between wheelchair teams.

For nearly a decade, Gaza has been subject to an Israeli-Egyptian blockade aimed at preventing Hamas, the militant Islamic group that controls the territory, from smuggling in weapons. Hamas and Israel have fought three wars since the Islamic group seized power in the coastal strip in 2007. The perpetual state of conflict, along with substandard health care, has added to the tens of thousands of disabled Gazans.

In the last three years, there has been “a revolution” of basketball among disabled men, according to Kamel Abu El-Hassan, the head of the Palestinian Paralympic Committee. Eight clubs have formed male basketball teams and Markt is coaching and advising them in his second visit to Gaza.

The success of these teams helped the Paralympic Committee to persuade women and girls to form their own team in this conservative society, in which sports can be seen as immodest. Abu El-Hassan said Markt’s visit is a significant new step toward forming a women’s team.


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