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As  a small group of Palestinian athletes prepared to compete in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, a documentary film crew decided to capture the challenges they went through preparing for the games.  Presented at the 2010 Toronto Palestine Film Festival, the documentary Inshallah Beijing! focuses on four athletes (two runners and two swimmers) and their coach in the 100 days leading up to their competition.

Inshallah means “god willing”, which is appropriate because that is about the only  advantage this team has in training for the Olympics. The athletes have their hearts in the right place but the team lacks even the most basic facilities and equipment. The coach has to pay for all his own expenses and the team has to beg the Palestine Olympic Committee to even get proper running shoes.  Ghadir, the lone female runner deals with not only the economic challenges faced by the team, but also the conservative expectations placed on women in Palestine. Zakia, one of two swimmers profiled, is studying to be a dental hygienist, but where she is studying there are no swimming pools. She had been hoping to get a permit from the Israelis to go to Nazareth to train, but the request was denied. In Gaza, they have to deal with constant gun fire, using discarded tires as weights to train with instead of proper equipment. Once they arrive in China to finally train properly (they get only 100 days to use proper training facilities), things do not go well for them either, as this is the first trip outside of Palestine for all of them, and they have a hard time adjusting to things like the weather and the food.

I really liked this film, but at 65 minutes, I felt it could have been longer and in a little bit more in depth. The focus was very much on the athlete’s personal experiences, but I would have liked a bit more digging on why the International Olympic Committee made sure that there was a Palestine Olympic team, which didn’t have to make the have the same qualifying criteria that other countries have. This seemed very politically motivated, and it would have been interesting to have a bit more context. I understand the challenges and struggles, but I also I have a hard time believing the Palestine Olympic Committee didn’t have money for shoes ( why have a committee if they can’t even get them shoes? ).  At the same time though, I understand why the filmmakers wanted to keep it a human story, not a political one.

Although it is admirable that a struggling group of people who are perpetually in civil war (and not even an independent state yet), can and want to send athletes to the games, its comes across as an irresponsible choice and unfair to the athletes to compete on such an unfair playing field. The documentary is quite compelling and I found myself thinking and talking about it days after seeing it. It will be interesting to see how they improve at the Olympics in 2012 in London”” “God willing.”