When Football Becomes a Battlefield, Quite Literally

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After Barcelona forward Lionel Messi was hit on the head with a plastic bottle in Sunday’s La Liga match at the Mestalla Stadium, Valencia vowed to ban the culprit for life. Struck while celebrating Sergio Busquets’ late winner, the 27-year-old maestro must have been asking one question: ‘Getting assaulted by a ‘fan’ or a Busquets goal, which freak incident is more unlikely?’

An unsavoury incident, we shall now continue looking at the darker side of football, explicitly, for today, within the realms of the Middle Eastern.

When Football Becomes a Battlefield, Quite Literally

At first glance, twelve months ago, the winning goal that clenched the African Champions League for Egypt’s most dominant club was celebrated with justifiable levels of euphoria. However, it wasn’t long before we realized that the goalscorer had performed a pro-Muslim Brotherhood gesture, one that would widen an already significant crack between the nation’s footballing icons and its political regime.

Ahmed Abdel-Zaher, the player guilty of the contentious celebration, was suspended by Cairo’s Al-Ahly. If tensions were high between Islamists and their pro-military foes before the incident, they were palpable now.

Holding up four fingers to his chest, the sign alluded to the massacre of hundreds as the army battled with fans at the Rabaa al-Adawiya Mosque.

A year on from the four fingered salute, Nidhal Selmi, a 22 year-old Tunisian plying his trade at Etoile du Sahel FC, was killed while fighting for ISIS in Syria.
Selmi, a slightly built individual with silky football skills, found the allure of waging a jihad irresistible. Last January, after deciding to retire from the sport, Sahel went off to compete on a very different field; a battlefield.

It is reported that Selmi was heavily influenced by his brother, a radical jihadist who resides in Syria. Selmi is not the first Tunisian footballer to die in Syria, nor will he be the last. Football is a colossal force, nevertheless, it is not immune from the toxic ISIS ideology.

With FIFA president Sepp Blatter responding to the latest criticism of the World Cup bidding process by assuring all concerned that the 2022 tournament will go ahead in Qatar, one fact must be acknowledged. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, by the time this footballing festival arrives,  close to 4,000 foreign workers will have died in Qatar. Doing what, you may find yourself asking. Constructing stadiums, that is what, and these poor expatriates, a vast majority of Indian and Nepalese descent, won’t be the only casualties of World Cup greed.

Seven and a half years is a long time, and between now and then, the already ominous relationship between high-ranking Qatari FA officials and Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist organization, will almost certainly result in more deaths of innocent Israelis.

The link between Hamas and the aforementioned Muslim Brotherhood is as significant as it is strong. In fact, back in 2000, King Abdullah II of Jordan made a historical decision, one that saw the organization’s Amman offices shut down. Where did senior Hamas officials seek sanctuary? Why, in Doha, of course.

More recently, 2011 saw Hamas flee its domain in Damascus, again relocating to Qatar. And, if this was not farcical enough, cast your minds back to 2012, a year that saw Qatar ‘invest’ $400 million in Hamas, a group that found themselves in a financial quandary at the time.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect involves a man called Sheikh Abdallah bin Nasser bin Khalifa al Thani. Along with having a name that simply rolls of the tongue, the Sheikh acted as Chairman of the Qatar World Cup Security Committee. Awarded this role while acting as the Minister of State for Internal Affairs, Sheikh, on more than one occasion, met with Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ Prime Minister.

The worry here lies in the very thought of bureaucratic, footballing officials and Hamas terror squads ‘liasing’. What is actually going on here? Do we still live in a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ society?
In a more civilized world, undoubtedly, terrorism and football would never be mentioned in the same sentence, but we find ourselves living in an age of impudence and insolence.

While football has possessed a tarnished, often corrupt image, for far too long, its once inviting embrace is no longer coated in a veil of innocence.


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Main Photo by Nadine Rupp/Getty Images