[News] Instep Intifada: Soccer Star Stands for Gaza

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Feb 7 11:17:58 EST 2008

Instep Intifada: Soccer Star Stands for Gaza


February, 07 2008

By Dave Zirin
Source: Philadelphiaweekly.com

In a world where mainstream media dumb down news 
reportage with inane sports metaphors, sometimes 
it takes sports to remind us of the gravity of 
the actual news. While the press acts like extras 
on Gossip Girl as they assess the latest 
machinations of Bill, Barack and Hillary, a 
soccer player aimed to alert the world to a humanitarian catastrophe.

Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Aboutreika of the 
Al-Ahly Pharoahs is the player who stepped up to 
this task. It’s a safe bet that Pharoah mania 
isn’t exactly sweeping the States. It’s also 
probably true that most readers don’t know 
Mohamed Aboutreika from Muhammad Ali, but the two men share more than a name.

After scoring in the Egyptian national side’s 3-0 
victory over Sudan in the African Nations Cup, 
the player known as the Smiling Assassin lifted 
his jersey to reveal a T-shirt that read, “Sympathize with Gaza.”

For such a simple slogan, the reaction has been 
profound. Aboutreika received a yellow card for 
breaking world soccer’s ruling body FIFA’s 
year-old rule against political sloganeering on 
the pitch, and a suspension may be in the works. 
But then the unexpected: The confederation was 
flooded with emails from fans and even reporters 
expressing their support for Aboutreika’s actions.

“He is a good player and he belongs to all Arab 
and Muslim nations, and he reflected what is in 
our hearts,” journalist Ahmed Gamal wrote to 
FIFA. “We are asking you, in the name of human 
rights, to cooperate with us and support him. 
Please do not even think about any suspension for 
him, because your tournament will be fake and the 
whole Muslim world is supporting him. Please 
don’t make that mistake. We are all sympathizing with Gaza.”

The immediate solidarity was due as much to the 
man as the message. For those who care more about 
navel lint than the seditious, flag-burning world 
of soccer, Aboutreika isn’t some obscure sideline 
footballer. One of the top players in Africa, 
he’s known as the “Smiling Assassin” for his 
trademark ear-to-ear post-goal-scoring grin.

Like calling Walter Payton “Sweetness,” it speaks 
to Aboutreika’s personality more than his play. 
He’s a media favorite for treating fans and 
reporters alike with a rare respect.

He follows the Muhammad Ali credo: “I’ll never 
look down on someone who looks up to me.” If 
Roger Clemens can make a person feel like bathing 
in Listerine after meeting him, Aboutreika makes 
the people around him feel lifted for loving sports.

After his team won the African Champions League 
in 2006, the press lavished him with praise. But 
Aboutreika gently rebuked them, saying, “We need 
to stop this habit of praising [an individual] 
player. It isn’t Aboutreika, but the whole team 
who got the Cup. Without the others’ efforts, I 
can’t ever make anything. Football is a game 
played by many players. It isn’t tennis or squash.”

He has said: “Every athlete has a humanitarian 
role in society. He doesn’t live solely for 
himself, but for others too. I like to 
participate in charity work and try my best to 
help the poor and penniless. I’m also seeking to 
use soccer in humanitarian work.”

Quaint as this may sound, Aboutreika backs his 
words with deeds. He’s made fighting poverty the 
focus of his life out of uniform, appearing in an 
Egyptian public service announcement broadcast in 
which he said: “Hunger takes away a child every 
five seconds. We have to move immediately and 
lend each other a hand because every second 
counts. This is a game we have to win.”

For a person committed to fighting poverty, the 
need to raise awareness about Gaza is an act of 
obvious principle.” (John Edwards, take note.)

FIFA may have been horrified by this breach of 
politics/sport propriety, but that’s nothing 
compared to what’s happening in Gaza itself.

Like Gotham in Kurt Russell’s Escape From New 
York, Gaza has become a prison city, a scrap of 
land containing 1.5 million prisoners­men, women 
and children. Bad turned to dystopic on Jan. 18, 
when the state of Israel imposed a total Gaza 
blockade. Before this action, unemployment 
exceeded 40 percent. Now life in Gaza isn’t about 
finding work. It’s about basic survival.

“A stream of dark and putrid sludge snakes 
through Gaza’s streets,” wrote journalist 
Mohammed Omer. “It is a noxious mix of human and 
animal waste. The stench is overwhelming. The 
occasional passer-by vomits. Over recent days, 
this has been a more common sight than the sale 
of food on the streets of Gaza, choked by a relentless Israeli siege.”

All of this came home after hundreds of thousands 
of desperate residents fled Gaza through a breach 
in the border wall. As Al Jazeera reported, “If 
Gaza is the biggest prison on the planet, this is the biggest jail break.”

This is what pushed Aboutreika to make his stand. 
How novel to see a superstar athlete stand up and 
protest the wreckage of U.S. imperial policy in 
the Middle East. Tom Brady is more likely to call 
his new cologne “Gaza Mist” than acknowledge the 
humanitarian horror show underwritten by his tax dollars.

Against the expectation of star athletes and his 
own federation, Aboutreika has decided that while 
there’s a soul in prison, he himself isn’t free. 
Amid the graveyards dug by the West, a smiling 
assassin has taken a stand for survival and a measure of human compassion.

Dave Zirin is the author of the new book "Welcome 
to the Terrordome:" with an intro by Chuck D 
(Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of 
Sports, every week by emailing 
dave at edgeofsports.com Contact him at edgeofsports at gmail.com

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