Football in the Middle East
Torn between the turmoils of the war and incessant fighting in the deserts and beautiful landscapes of oil-rich middle east, Friday signifies a day of more than prayers. It is a day of celebrations. The local teams in the countries come out to play against each other. Unlike the year planned European football leagues of the highly paid professional footballers, these matches convene at a short notice of half and hour with lack of any proper training equipment or grounds.
The expectations from the players outweigh the expectations from Ballack’s and Beckahm’s. Their victories are awarded with camels and celebrated with the launch of rocket-launchers and absent minded firing in the airs. And losses are not excepted with sacking of the coaches but a possible killing of the coach or the players family on their return to their countries. It sounds gory but such is the history and politics of the land.
Whereas, UNO fails to recognize Palestine as a country, FIFA has accepted them. The encouragement it provides to the Palestinians is amazing. It has lighted a candle of hopes for them to be recognized internationally. Like a 2 year old, they believe a qualification to the biggest sporting event in the world i.e. FIFA World cup, would bring them an automatic acceptance into the UNO headquarters. This in turn could end their generations of no identity.
When IRAQ unexpectedly won the ASIAN championship, they had their star midfielder Younis Mohammad nominated alongisde Chrsitiano Ronaldo and Kaka for the FIFA World player of the year. Many doubt it as a pacifying measure by FIFA but few have watched the star play. Fewer would be unaware of him being approached by Manchester City of Sven Goran only to be refused a work permit by UK because IRAQ is not a good enough football nation. The reason because it is below 70 rankings in FIFA.
Iraqi footballers are a happy lot and comprise of Shias, Sunnis and Kurds in a region where Saddam Hussein single handedly brought a holocuast on the Kurds. Back in his days, his son UDAY was a tormentor worse than the Gestapo and head of the FA in Iraq. No Kurds were allowed to play in the national team. Today their star is a Kurd himself – Younis Mohammad.
Al-Jaish, a Syrian football club’s name means military. It is in fact a military club controlled by a General and Colonel as heads of the football club. It is a true representation of a country where there is military at every nook and corner.They are the champions of the premier league in Syria. 10 seasons without losing the domestic trophy and only one Asian Championship in 2003. Due to the rule of obligatory military service in the country the Al-Jiash Colonel snatches the best players from other clubs to play for them. Similar to the rich clubs of Europe like Chelsea, Real Madrid and Manchester City.
Coming to the two great clubs of Egypt – Al Ahly and Zamalek. Al Ahly is the local team from Cairo whereas Zamalek is the team from a small island in the suburbs. In Cairo, the first question asked is – Ahly or Zamarek. Better safe than sorry. Choose the ‘Not a football follower’ if you are not sure.
The white Al -Ahly signify and stand for the rich whereas Zamalek is for the bourgeois. It is the most watched game in Africa. Politics, history, pride and escapism being reasons more than Football. Besides this, the Ultras and the firm of Zamalek like it for the hooliganism. One little known fact and a trivia – Al Ahly is the club with the longest run of unbeated games i.e. 55 yeah more than Arsenal. One of the greatest players of Egypt played for Zamalek but cannot enter Cairo even after 5 years into retirement for it could be killed by ‘The Ultras’.
Yemen was banned from the Football World Cup qualifications because they would not do a doping test. They had reasons more than just football not to do it. Their society is crazy for football too but the national team cannot participate because of a social custom of chewing a drug called ‘Khat’. To the chagrin of many of it’s supporters even the administrators of football in the country chew it which deprives them of the right to ban it on the national team. Therefore, they switched their allegiance to Real Madrid and Barcelona.
The head of one of the blacklisted organizations in the world – Hezbollah – owns a football team in Lebanon. It is called Ahed. To the fans and teams, he is the most benevolent person. Organizing social events, constructing schools, dispensing food and other things are few of his activities besides the congratulations to his team players on victory. One wonders what motivations does a so called terrorist organization in the west have in running a football club. It is the dirty politics and hope they provide to the people.
Al-Wadyt and Al-Faisal are the two biggest clubs in Jordan. Al-Wahdyt comprises of players from the Palestinian refugees in the country who hold Jordon passports but call themselves Palestinians. They have the fiercest rivalry with the King’s club Al-Faislay. Hence, every victory they have over the royal club is met by riots and beatings by the military and police because they are on the King’s payroll.
Little wonder it is to understand the celebrations of the fans in this region with such animosity and hooliganism. They celebrate with running their 4×4’s on the highways, hanging people out of the windows and firing launchers. A win to them means a new identification and new joy. An expression of their superiority over their rivals in foreign land. Breaking free from the fetters of social stigma and conservatism, letting out their frustrations at the governments at a victory are a few of the joys they enjoy in their weeks besides the Football.
They sing songs like the West Ham fans. They love movies – Green Mile and Football Factory. They express their opinion and scare their coaches. They hate their rivals. On the contrary, they use football to integrate their society. They use football occaisons to state their rights for freedom on the international scene.
Like the Berlusconis and unlike the Abrahamovich, football is all about politics in the war affetced region.
WHEN FRIDAY COMES, FOOTBALL IS MORE THAN A GAME’