Thursday, January 23, 2020

Al-Muntada Al-Riyadi Cercle Sportif in Jaffa (established in 1911)

Issam Khalidi

    In the second half of the nineteenth century, Palestine witnessed an expansion in the missionary societies, schools, hospitals, and printing presses. These institutions served as a bridge that helped open Palestine to the Western world. Establishing social clubs at the beginning of the twentieth century was a form of modernity that began to cast a shadow over the region. This modernity had an impact on cultural and social awareness in Palestine.

    In October 1911, a team of young people in Jaffa established a new sports club Al-Muntada Al-Riyadi Cercle Sportif (in French). It is one of the first social-cultural clubs in Palestine. It was founded by Arabs and some foreigners working in Jaffa. Its goal was reviving sports that strengthen muscles and develop a healthy and active body. It only admitted members with high morals and good manners. It called its members not to discuss political and religious matters. Francis Khayyat [a lawyer, writer and later a judge] was elected president, Anton Jallad and Alfonso Rock as vice president.[1] Most of the information about this club were obtained from Filastin.

  Some members criticized the club for its foreign members’ behaviors, also they accused its Arab members of gambling. This accusation came in a letter to the editor of Filastin:
Dear Editor of Filastin,
    Maybe you did not hear before about al-Muntada al-Riyadi, it is a metaphor for the association founded in Jaffa recently aiming to revive sports. Some friends recommended me this club for its benefits. However, first, in this club alcohol and gambling are allowed although most of its members are young people and known for their good manners. Second, the arrogance of few of its European members who show contempt to the Arabs and ignore them. Although they are a small minority, however, one can feel that there is no will above there will. Third, some European members insult the Arab by calling him ‘sal Arab’ [bad] dirty Arab.

This message caused a stir among the club’s members who protested against this reported accusation which forced Filastin to respond on March 13, 1913 (about a month later):

   We are very pleased with what we have learned that everything stated in this letter [the above-mentioned letter] was overrated, especially what came about the Europeans contempt for the people of the country by calling them ‘Sal Arab’ dirty Arab. As we realized that this phrase no one dares to say in the club because it is a contempt that no one could accept. As for the reported gambling what we could know that it is absolutely forbidden by the rules of the club. However, the members could play cards in bad weather conditions when they are not able to exercise outside. However, the club’s President banned those games for fear of what they could lead to.

This club held its annual festival in May 1913, the first of its kind after its founding. At 3 pm the club was full of attendants. The festival was opened on the sounds of music and then games and competitions began. The first of these competitions was the bag racing. The players ran with their legs in bags in which Al-Khawaja Elias Al-Barqas won. He also won the water mug race which was followed by applause and cheering.[2] This was followed with a tennis game between Khawaja Yusuf Hal and Jean Felbert. After two sessions Khawaja Hal won. Then came the cigar [cigarettes] competition: a number of players line away from a long seat placed on it at close distances a number of cigar and near each one a box of matches. After the given signal the competitors ran, took a cigarette lit and kept running with a lit cigar until they reached the end. This was followed by the game of the puzzles which was won by Khawaja Alfred Rock. After that came a race between different animals, including Ghazala, rabbit, dog, monkey and mouse. At 6:30, about seven participants took part in the 1800-meters running competition. They arrived at the new street, which recently was opened behind the Coptic Bayara Orchard, and there in front of Bayara al-Issa the start signal was given. They crossed this street and passed in front of the Jummezat al-Masakin on the Jerusalem Road and ran through the al-Batma alley until the end to the Cercle Sportif.[3]

  Apparently, for unknown reasons this club became under the supervision of the British administration until 1948, it became known as   Cercle Sportive or Jaffa Sports Club. Its name came later in 1919 as a tennis club. It was the first club to start annual tournaments in tennis in 1919, followed by the Jerusalem SC in 1921. The Arab newspaper Filastin reported about a tennis match between these two clubs:

“A match in tennis was held Sunday in Jerusalem between Jaffa Sports Club [Cercle Sportif] and al-Quds club [Jerusalem Sports Club].” [4]


[1] Filastin, 11 February 1913.
[2] Filastin, 21 May 1913.
[3] Filastin, 21 May 1913.
[4] Filastin, 28 August 1928.

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