Beware of creating a new Aboutrika

11-03-2018 09:09 AM

Youssef Sidhom

Youssef Sidhom

Problems on hold

Media frenzy over footballer Mohamed Salah

The name of Egyptian footballer Mohamed Salah, who plays for Liverpool, is all over the media. Egyptians view Salah with endearment and national pride for his exceptional talent and singular performance on the pitch. He is a member of the Egyptian national team, and everyone excitedly looks forward to his playing with Egypt in the upcoming World Cup in Russia.
Salah’s name first made news as a footballer with the Egyptian al-Muqaweloun al-Arab in 2009. In 2012 he was picked by Swiss FC Basel then by Chelsea in 2014. In 2015 he moved to the Italian Fiorentina then to Roma before joining Liverpool in 2017. The experience honed his talent and made of him a first class striker. Today, European teams grapple to win him to their ranks, so much so that his fee amounts to 80 million Euros; there are rumours he might join Real Madrid.
Salah not only boasts outstanding talent, but also enjoys a fine ethical standard. He rarely displays anger or violence, or loses his nerve on the field. His joy at scoring a goal never exceeds the limits of decent behaviour. He is among those professional players whose sense of commitment does not allow them to resort to verbal or physical abuse in response to provocation on the pitch; those who do so earn nothing but penalties from their clubs, referees or football associations. In short, Mohamed Salah is a role model for youth, especially when it comes to his devotion to sports, his pride of being Egyptian and his steering off all sorts of political or religious fanaticism, extremism or discrimination.
Given the fantastic role model Salah is, I have lately been seriously concerned at a media trend that associates his success with his being Muslim; the media has taken to insisting that Salah’s achievements are by virtue of his Islamic identity. His hands held up to Heaven, his bowing to the ground when he scores a goal are purely Islamic, the media claims; individuals convert to Islam because of that. It has reached the point where fans cheer for him as ‘that brilliant Muslim’. Mohamed Salah is made into an unprecedented phenomenon in the football world, a phenomenon primarily associated with Islam. Fans appear to forget that Salah’s performance, like that of any other footballer, includes mistaken moves and missed goals. They deliberately disregard that so many other professional footballers possess outstanding talent, score goals, hold their hands up to Heaven, kneel down to give thanks, make the sign of the Cross, and display altogether fine behaviour drawn from their respective ethics and values. Salah is made to be outstanding because he is Muslim.
It is outrageous that the media should forge a fanatic religious image for Salah, and export it to his admirers and fans. Disregarding time-honoured sporting values and attributing all success in sports to Islam is very serious; it is a sheer renouncement of reasonableness. Here are samples of what the media has written about Salah:
• Salah’s ‘spiritual gestures’ make the devil lose his mind.
• Amid a state of utter spiritual absorption, the English media closely follows the religious devoutness and awesome faith of the English Premier League’s Muslim stars led by Liverpool’s Egyptian Mohamed Salah and his mates, Mesut Özil, Moussa Dembélé, Riyad Mahrez and Paul Pogba.
• The faith of these five is self-evident in their behaviour on the pitch, through hands held up to heaven in prayer and knees bent in gratitude following each goal. The Egyptian player’s faith has become an inspiration for some of his fans.
The media discounts the outstanding talent, performance, and manners of the various Liverpool footballers, and pins the team’s success solely on Mohamed Salah and his Muslim teammates.
At this point, I must own that I fear for Salah himself lest the fanatic trend messes up his mind, especially that at his young age he may not be able to counter the flare of extremism. A few years ago in Egypt, a young talented footballer, Mohamed Aboutrika who has to his credit remarkable achievements on the football field, fell victim of the same brand of media religious fanaticism. Aboutrika ended up a Muslim Brother (MB) and supported the group now declared by Egypt a terror group. Today, he faces charges of funding terrorism. I squarely blame the media for leading him down that path, and warn that, inadvertently, the media may be doing this again to Salah. The attempt to make Salah a clone of Aboutrika is unfair to him and to Egypt.

Watani International
11 March 2018

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