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Palestinian women take part in a baseball training session in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip March 19, 2017. Picture taken March 19, 2017. (REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

Spring training

Women in Gaza, challenging taboos, take up a great American pastime

March 25, 2017

Major League baseball players at spring training in Florida and Arizona are gearing up for the regular season of America’s pastime. Half a world away, there’s another variety of spring training happening: Women are challenging social taboos and trying their hands at the sport of baseball.

Reports emerged from Gaza this week from Reuters, Vocativ and Al Jazeera profiling the fledgling league. Photographs showed women wearing hijabs running through drills led by a coach. And video from Al Jazeera showed the women in action, learning and practicing the fundamentals of the game.

According to Reuters, the league is being launched by Mahmoud Tafesh, who is funding the spring training, as it were, out of his own pocket. Tafesh, who played on the national soccer team for 16 years and trained as a baseball coach in Egypt, said getting the proper equipment and a proper field to play on has proven challenging, but hasn’t stopped him from holding practices.

Another obstacle, Vocativ notes, is posed by the social norms in Gaza. Since Hamas seized control of the region in 2006, women and girls have been discouraged from fraternizing in public with members of the opposite sex. Though males are allowed to take part in sports freely, there’s been an effort to exclude women and girls from playing. In 2013, Hamas banned women from competing in the marathon.

But none of that is deterring Tafesh. In fact, he’s recruited 60 players so far — 40 women and 20 men. In a place that’s occupied and exists in a climate of great geopolitical tension, baseball could serve as an escape. In fact, one of the players spoke to that very phenomenon. “I used to watch baseball at home as a child,” Iman Al-Moghayer told Al Jazeera. “I love it because it’s full of freedom.” She continued, “Girls come and practice, the numbers are increasing and there’s lots of girls who’d like to sign up despite their lack of knowledge of the sport.”

Watch Al Jazeera’s complete report below.

Read more at Vocativ and Reuters.