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
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
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
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
FIFA may have been horrified by this breach of politics/sport propriety, but that’s nothing compared to what’s happening in
Like Gotham in Kurt Russell’s Escape From New York,
“A stream of dark and putrid sludge snakes through
All of this came home after hundreds of thousands of desperate residents fled
This is what pushed Aboutreika to make his stand. How novel to see a superstar athlete stand up and protest the wreckage of
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 [email protected] Contact him at [email protected]