As a young boy, I used to play football with the other children in the neighbourhood, and then as a teenager, I played with my high school team. When I grew up and started working, I could soon afford to go to Germany to attend the world cup finals, and took my pregnant wife with me. In 1968, I attended the Olympics in Mexico, and then watched year after year the tennis tournaments in Wimbledon. I also attended tens of international football games in England, France and Italy, in addition to American Football, and cheered for the Washington Redskins when I was lived in the U.S capital, and then attended a game in London only a few days ago.
In other words, I am not writing as one of those “pseudo-intellectuals” who consider sports enthusiasts to be mentally retarded, but as an old aficionado who spares no occasion to attend a match, especially if it is a football game.
Meanwhile, the match between the national teams of Egypt and Algeria was not a sports match as much as it was a war, although the players on the field were much better behaved than the media in both countries, and the team officials and fans. I want to ask, if Egypt and Algeria shared a border, would the situation have deteriorated into a border dispute, similar to what happened in Hala'ib and the Western Sahara, or every other border between two Arab neighbours who share a common destiny, as the usual slogan goes?
A football match thus turned into a confrontation that required the summoning of ambassadors and statements to be given by a dozen ministers, and not just the minister of Youth and Sports, or only those ministers who are concerned.
Even President Abdelaziz Bouteflika called President Mubarak twice, according to the account given by the Algerian newspapers; in fact, there were those among the latter who described the incident of hurling stones at the Algerian players as being a “massacre”, without noticing that the alleged massacre had no casualties, and not even injuries that needed hospitalization.
On the other hand, I read that an official in the Egyptian sports press was quoted as saying that the latter is “responsible and did not descend into the irresponsible rhetoric and obscenities practiced by some of the Algerian newspapers”. He seems to have given this statement without noticing that it is exactly the kind of rhetoric and obscenities that he accused others of descending into.
I know that a football’s player mind is in his feet, and I am not criticizing, since some players earn more money in one year than I will ever earn in a lifetime of writing. However, I do not understand how the media and officials from both countries, in addition to the supporters of both teams can behave as if their brains have become on par with their feet.
If an Arab president calls another, the conversation should be about the issues concerning the nation, and not about a football game. Egypt, with its position of leadership and its Arab rank, and Algeria, the country of the million martyrs, should be instead coordinating their efforts to defend the Aqsa Mosque; instead, they are preoccupied with the madness of the Egyptian and Algerian public, distracting them from what is important and from what is most important.
Saturday’s game was in Cairo, and tomorrow, the decisive game will be held in Khartoum, with the result being that an Arab country from the third group in Africa will qualify to the world cup finals next year in South Africa.
Sine I am neither Egyptian nor Algerian, I already have won in both cases and before the referee even used his whistle to indicate the commencement of play in Cairo, because whomever the winner will be, it will be an Arab team that will qualify to the world cup; however, it is clear that this view is not shared by the two teams’ supporters, who see the other team as though it were a dreadful enemy.
Perhaps I would not have written about this subject had it not been for the fact that while I was waiting for the game to start, I was quickly scanning the London newspapers so as to not miss anything from the game when it beings. As such, I found a similar report in the two largest newspapers entitled the best one hundred books published this decade.
The similarity between the two reports was odd, and the coincidental time of their publishing was even stranger, since the decade is not over yet. The only difference between the two in fact was that the Times published the list of books in descending order of importance and influence, while the Daily Telegraph started with the last books and ended with the first.
There were some books in one list that did not appear in the other, while some other books took different ranks in both lists. The novel “The Road”, written by Cormac McCarthy came first in the Times’ list, but was not included at all in the Telegraph’s. Instead, the book “Harry Potter” written by J.K. Rowling came first there, although the book occupied the 17th rank in the second list. Then, “Dreams from My Father” by Barack Obama was second in one list and third in the other. As for the atheist Richard Dawkins, his book “the God Delusion” fell from fifth place on one list to fifteenth on the second list, while Zadie Smith’s White Teeth fell from eighth to twentieth between the two lists.
Why did I move from football to books? The list included writers from all over the world, including Pakistanis, Indian, Afghans, Turks, Iranians, Japanese, South American and many other countries. However, there wasn’t even one Arab name. Why? Because in the last ten years, the Arabs were playing football and fighting among themselves, even over a match, instead of just enjoying the game.
*Published in the London-based AL-HAYAT on Nov. 17, 2009.