[News] Instep Intifada: Soccer Star Stands for Gaza
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
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. Its a safe bet that Pharoah mania
isnt exactly sweeping the States. Its also
probably true that most readers dont know
Mohamed Aboutreika from Muhammad Ali, but the two men share more than a name.
After scoring in the Egyptian national sides 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 soccers ruling body FIFAs
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 Aboutreikas 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
dont 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 isnt some obscure sideline
footballer. One of the top players in Africa,
hes known as the Smiling Assassin for his
trademark ear-to-ear post-goal-scoring grin.
Like calling Walter Payton Sweetness, it speaks
to Aboutreikas personality more than his play.
Hes a media favorite for treating fans and
reporters alike with a rare respect.
He follows the Muhammad Ali credo: Ill 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 isnt Aboutreika, but the whole team
who got the Cup. Without the others efforts, I
cant ever make anything. Football is a game
played by many players. It isnt tennis or squash.
He has said: Every athlete has a humanitarian
role in society. He doesnt 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. Im also seeking to
use soccer in humanitarian work.
Quaint as this may sound, Aboutreika backs his
words with deeds. Hes 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 thats nothing
compared to whats happening in Gaza itself.
Like Gotham in Kurt Russells 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 isnt about
finding work. Its about basic survival.
A stream of dark and putrid sludge snakes
through Gazas 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
theres a soul in prison, he himself isnt 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
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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