As is the case with Arab politics, Arab sports competitions, especially when it comes to football, are full of difficulties, problems and disputes. The moment the draw places two Arab teams in the same group in any qualifications or continental or world championships, a climate of “the mother of all matches” begins to take shape. And because the Arab policies led by referees, regulations and state institutions are weak, and are always arousing the anger of their peoples who have reached the point of complete separation from all things political, official statements, which involve a tremendous amount of civilities on the background of Arab sports battles, are unable to defuse the hatred that blazes between peoples who do not trust politicians in the first place. These peoples have left politics for football, where their difficulties with politicians are compensated.
The most prominent case that has kept all circles busy over the past few days is that of the match between Egypt and Algeria at the qualifications for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, which took place two days ago on Saturday and ended with the victory of the Egyptian team with two clean goals, forcing their competitor, the Algerian team, to engage in a decisive match the day after tomorrow on Wednesday at the Al-Merreikh stadium in the city of Umm Durman in Sudan. Indeed, the climate that preceded the match and will persist until the decisive day in Umm Durman has shown the peoples as well as the officials of the two countries as if they had all premeditatedly chosen this confrontation.
Thus matters have gone beyond being a decisive match for both teams and peoples, to become a battle lacking sportsmanship, in which were practiced all of the means that are only used between enemies in battles that know neither the spirit of sportsmanship nor any other spirit. Hence Sudan, the political problems of which numerous Arab countries had been involved in efforts to resolve, finds itself turned into the arena of an Arab football battle that can only be settled on its soil. And while Arab officials choose their battles with each other, or at least choose to enter into them only according to their own interests, Arab sports teams never choose to confront each other, except in friendly matches devoid of competition to begin with. Indeed, neither the Egyptian team chose the Algerian national team to compete against for qualification in the World Cup, nor did the Algerian national team prefer Egypt’s team to other African teams in order to snatch away from it the opportunity to go to South Africa.
It was the draw that ensured placing the two teams in a situation of confrontation, yet the way the media in both countries, as well as the athletes and supporters of the two countries, dealt with this match made us feel as if the aim of each team was to deprive the other from reaching its World Cup dream, rather than to compete for qualification, and as if the two countries had chosen this confrontation, rather than it being imposed on them. In fact, at this point, each party is monitoring the stances of parties surrounding the match, in order to determine how they will deal with them in the future, based on the opinions or wishes they have put forward regarding the match! In addition, institutions and committees have decided to punish artists and performers who have made television appearances, wishing for the victory of one team and expressing their sympathy for it, while conspiracy theories have become prevalent among all and no trust remains between all of the parties, each of them appealing to the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) whose directives athletes submit to, exactly as is the case with resolving Arab disputes, which are now resolved or have solutions imposed on them in international forums and formal bodies, after the failure of Arab politicians to avoid provoking problems or to solve them.
It is noteworthy that, on the same day that witnessed the match between Egypt and Algeria, competition over two other tickets to the World Cup also took place, in which Tunisia and Morocco competed against Nigeria and Cameroon. Yet it seems that, since the competitors were two non-Arab teams, the spirit of sportsmanship prevailed and the Arabs lost two representatives at the World Cup without the same uproar that enveloped the Egyptian-Algerian competition. Arab “battles” in various fields will however remain a reflection of the deteriorating political situation. What matters is that the Arabs have ensured the presence of one of their representatives at the football World Cup, after Tunisia and Morocco – and before them Bahrain – have been eliminated. The Arabs will support their representative in the streets and in front of television screens, but will then return to their now customary situation, and will fight each other at the first confrontation between two of their teams in “the mother of all matches”.
*Published in the London-based AL-HAYAT on Nov. 16, 2009.