GazaEgypt 8342 Brazil Rio Police firing rubber bulletsHaiti 2 Armed guard at training

Since 2008 I have been writing and photographing sports and news features for My work for CNN has taken me to Gaza, the West Bank, Israel, Egypt, Haiti and beyond. I have also undertaken a series of investigations exposing the Kafala system of sponsorship in Qatar, examining political repression in Ukraine ahead of the 2012 European Championships and the story of a Palestinian footballer from Gaza who was arrested, held without charge and almost died after losing half his body weight during a hunger strike.

Here’s a selection of some features I’ve written for them.

Syria conflict: Kicking for hope in Zaatari refugee camp
March 14, 2014

13 Jordan VIP

Amongst the clouds of dust kicked up from the desert by the hundreds of new arrivals who pitch up every day at the Zaatari refugee camp — just 15 kilometers from the Jordan/Syria border — Abeer Rantisi is planning her next lesson.

World Cup only benefits outsiders, say Brazil protesters
June 19, 2013

4 Brazil Belo Horizonte prepares for the arrival of the Confeds

At 11 pm, the tired and the injured gathered in Belo Horizonte for one last expression of discontent. More than a thousand sat in Praca Sete de Setembro, a square in the center of the city, chanting against the government and the police. But they weren’t the crowd’s only enemy. A sign hung from a nearby balcony. It read: “Anti Copa.” On the pavement the words “A FIFA é Foda” had been painted: “F*** You, FIFA,” in Portuguese. The roads had been blocked off by the military police, who watched the protesters from afar. A bank of police horses chewed on piles of hay left for them on the road.

Should soccer boycott Israel’s European Championship?
June 6, 2013


Mahmoud Sarsak is twice the man he used to be. The diminutive Palestinian soccer player is sitting in a small cafe in central London, tired but otherwise surprisingly healthy for a man who had lost half his body weight during a hunger strike 12 months ago.

Desert heat: World Cup hosts Qatar face scrutiny over ‘slavery’ accusations
May 1, 2013

3 Bahrain 2009 Kids playing football in the sand

Zahir Belounis has spent the best part of the last two years without wages, a club or any prospect of returning home but the French Algerian footballer now faces his immediate future without the most basic of commodities. Food.

Fear and loathing in Egypt: The fallout from Port Said
January 30, 2013

13 V for Vendetta

The faces of more than 70 young men and boys bore down on the crowd of thousands outside Al Ahly’s training complex in Cairo. As many as 15,000 members of the Ahlawy, the organized ultras fan group of Egypt’s most popular soccer club, had gathered here early for the news they, and the country, had been waiting almost a year to hear.

The Munich massacre: A survivor’s story
September 5, 2012

Professor Shaul Ladany has a busy schedule to keep these days, but lays down one important condition before agreeing to speak to CNN. “Every morning I roll up the carpet and do my exercises,” he explains. “So when I talk to you I might be breathing quite heavily, inhaling and exhaling. I hope that is OK for you.

Rwandan amputees bring message of hope: ‘We are superstars’
August 31, 2012

The small group of young men walk confidently into the gymnasium in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, sit down and casually unfasten their legs. Each prosthetic limb is of differing sizes and shapes. Some are adorned with Nike trainers, others Puma. Each is left abandoned by the wheelchairs that circle the small volleyball court drawn out on to the hard concrete surface as their owners take to the floor and artfully glide into position.

Saving Flo Jo: Taking back a legacy
August 10, 2012

When Florence Griffith-Joyner signed up for her 1988 Olympic 100 meter trial in Indianapolis, few expected fireworks. But those who were there to witness her quarterfinal run couldn’t comprehend what they were seeing.

Gold against the soul: An athlete’s story of the 1980 Moscow boycott
August 7, 2012

Don Paige could not bear to watch the race that he knew he could win. It was Saturday July 26 at the 1980 Moscow Olympics and British runner Steve Ovett was about to win gold in the 800 meters. It was, arguably, the defining moment of a tainted Games. Ovett enjoyed a taciturn rivalry with another British middle distance runner who held the world record: Sebastian Coe, the man now in charge of London 2012.

‘Eric the Eel’ dreams of Olympic return
July 31, 2012

The English commentator veered from disbelief to anger and then, finally, to mirth. It was the opening heat of the men’s 100 meters freestyle swimming at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, but only one man was standing on his block: Eric Moussambani from Equatorial Guinea, a tiny, oil-rich state in west Africa.

Hero or villain? Ben Johnson and the dirtiest race in history
July 23, 2012

Ben Johnson was the last man to settle into his blocks at the Seoul Olympic Stadium. It was September 24, 1988, a heartbeat before the start of the 100 meters final and what was to become the most infamous sporting moment in Olympic history.

From clowns to Kings: When Poland (almost) ruled the soccer world
June 8, 2012

In the end it was the clown who had the last laugh. In 1973, England prepared for a crucial World Cup qualifier against Poland, a team hidden behind the Iron Curtain of communism which had provided little footballing resistance in the recent past.

Prison, persecution and football: How Ukraine’s Euro 2012 dream turned sour
May 8, 2012

No one used the word reward, but the subtext was clear for all to see. In April 2007, when Poland and Ukraine were surprisingly awarded the right to co-host the 2012 European Championship — one of international football’s top tournaments after the World Cup — both countries’ delegations exploded with joy.

The third man: The forgotten Black Power hero
April 25, 2012

It is perhaps the most iconic sports photograph ever taken. Captured at the medal ceremony for the men’s 200 meters at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, U.S. sprinter Tommie Smith stands defiantly, head bowed, his black-gloved fist thrust into the thin air.

United by fate: The story of Libya’s rebel national soccer team
October 26, 2011

1 Libya 2011 Team try on new badge in Tunisia

It’s 10 minutes after the final whistle has blown but still no one knows whether their efforts have been in vain. The Libyan national soccer team sit in the dressing room at the Nchanga Stadium — in Chingola, a small copper mining town on the Zambia-Congo border — quietly waiting for news amidst the fog of sweat.

The other U.S. national soccer team
October 27, 2011

USVI 1 Goalkeeper

Whichever way you dice it, Reid Klopp is a man of faith. The 27-year-old captain of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) national soccer team sits in the stands of Haiti’s national football stadium with his teammates, exhausted.

An American soccer star playing for Palestine
July 11, 2011

30 The team nervous in the tunnel before the game, Omar Jarun in the zone

At six foot five, with his shock of blonde hair shaved into a fat Mohawk and talking in a languid Georgian drawl, Omar Jarun looks like he was once part of an all-conquering college basketball team. But the 26-year-old American doesn’t play basketball. Or at least not well. “I played recreational basketball for one season,” he told CNN. “People told me I should try it because of my height. But I wasn’t any good at it.”

As F1 returns to Bahrain, footballers languish in jail
June 6, 2011

2 Bahrain 2009 Pro monarchy at WCQ match

Alaa Hubail was once considered a national hero. The 28-year-old striker had been instrumental in Bahrain’s greatest footballing achievement, reaching the semi-finals of the 2004 Asian Cup, where he finished joint top scorer. His goals also helped Bahrain reach two World Cup qualifying play-offs, failing to reach Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010 by just a single goal on both occasions. Remarkable achievements for a country with fewer than a million citizens. But heroes are made or broken on slim margins.

Refugee United: Palestinians debut at Homeless World Cup
September 24, 2010

The highway south from Beirut towards the small football pitch on the outskirts of the Al Buss Palestinian refugee camp is dark and littered with the tell-tale signs of a dysfunctional state. Every few miles are broken by army roadblocks manned by heavily armed troops, and roadside portraits of Hezbollah’s heroes — both dead and alive — increase in number the further south you travel.

Football and the wall: The divided soccer community of Jerusalem
September 17, 2010

They are two football teams from the same city, based just a few miles apart but who play in different worlds. Beitar Jerusalem — Israel’s most popular team — and Jabal al Mukaber — Palestinian champions of east Jerusalem — play either side of the wall that separates the two communities in the city.

Punks, prostitutes and St. Pauli: Inside soccer’s coolest club
August 20, 2010

On the docks of the German port city of Hamburg, the district of St. Pauli blinks with brightly-colored neon signs advertising countless sex cinemas and private dancers. This, after all, is where you will find the Reeperbahn, one of Europe’s most infamous red-light districts, an area with proud memories of when The Beatles played the raucous venues of the town over a two-and-a-half-year period before they became the most famous band in the world.

Maurice Flitcroft: The world’s worst golfer
August 13, 2010

When Maurice G. Flitcroft strode towards the first tee on an unseasonably hot English morning to begin his qualifying round for the 1976 British Open, few of the dozen or so spectators politely applauding the strangely-attired man believed they were about to witness history. After all, the supposedly professional golfer — sporting plastic shoes, a fishing hat, false teeth and a set of cheap mail-order clubs — hardly looked like a world-beater.

The secret machine: Inside North Korea’s World Cup squad
June 15, 2010

In the shadows of the Swiss Alps, just outside the mountain village of Anzere, Jong Tae Se hit the back of the net with an unnerving, metronomic accuracy. The North Korean soccer star known around the world as the “People’s Rooney” — thanks to a bullish playing style reminiscent of England and Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney — was deep in concentration, drilling the ball into alternative corners of the goal as the midday sun beat down.

When U.S. postmen and miners humbled England
June 12, 2010

It is still regarded as one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history; the day the U.S. shocked the world.

In the group stages of the 1950 World Cup finals in Brazil, center back Walter Bahr marshaled his collection of semi-professionals (mainly postmen and miners) to a 1-0 victory against arguably the best team in the world: England.

Egypt versus Algeria: Inside the storm
November 7, 2009

3 Egypt 2009 Algerian fan at World Cup qualifier in Cairo

The frightened look on the Algerian players’ faces said it all. Standing in the center of the Cairo International Stadium, the 11 players representing the Desert Foxes were subjected to a barrage of boos and screams from the 100,000-strong crowd, drowning out every single note of their national anthem.

Women flock to see first female football game in West Bank
November 13, 2009

2 2009 Palestine Police guard a stand full of women at Palestines first womens home match

The Faisal al Husseini football stadium was packed, two hours before kick off, with a noisy sea of Palestinian flags and white hijabs. Football matches are always a big deal in the West Bank, but this game was more significant than most. 10,000 women had flocked to the stadium, on the outskirts of East Jerusalem and a mere few meters from the separation barrier that snakes around the West Bank, to watch a historic football match few would have believed possible just a few years ago: the Palestinian women’s national team were to play Jordan in their first ever home international.

Soccer in the firing line: Gaza Cup final
October 29, 2009

4 Gaza 2009 mean as hell security guards for Ismail Haniya

Terrace crowds are controlled by men wearing army fatigues and holding Kalashnikov rifles, players and press pray on the pitch at half-time and when the final whistle is blown, the trophy is handed to the winning captain by one of Israel’s most wanted men. Welcome to soccer, Gaza style.


One thought on “CNN

  1. Hello James. I really appreciate the way you cover the human side of football. Back in 2011, you did a great piece on Afshin Ghotbi. If you have an interest in a follow up plesse contact me as soon as possible. Thanks

    Santo Rivas


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