Tuesday, February 01, 2011

More than a Game, Cairo Edition

As a history nerd, one of the factors that has drawn me into following world football is that it's a great way to learn about historical context. For instance, reading about how the modern game started in England requires one to understand the effects of the industrial revolution, as well as the role played by English schools in training their elite. Reading about how the modern game spread throughout the world requires one to understand how international trade took off in the late 19th and early 20th century. When I was picking a club to support, I was drawn to Barca, at least in part, by the founding myth (and I use the term myth in the Jospeh Campbell sense, not the "totally fictional story" sense) that the club was an outlet for opposition to Franco, with the murder of Josep Sunyol a central part of the story.

Not surprisingly, soccer is weaved into the current events taking place in Egypt:

Last Thursday, the Egyptian Soccer Federation announced that they would be suspending all league games throughout the country in an effort to keep the soccer clubs from congregating. Clearly this was a case of too little, too late. Even without games, the football fan associations have been front and center organizing everything from the neighborhood committees that have been providing security for residents, to direct confrontation with the state police. In an interview with Al-Jazeera, Alaa Abd El Fattah, a prominent Egyptian blogger said, "The ultras -- have played a more significant role than any political group on the ground at this moment." Alaa then joked, "Maybe we should get the ultras to rule the country."

The involvement of the clubs has signaled more than just the intervention of sports fans. The soccer clubs' entry into the political struggle also means the entry of the poor, the disenfranchised, and the mass of young people in Egypt for whom soccer was their only outlet.

As soccer writer James Dorsey wrote this week, "The involvement of organized soccer fans in Egypt's anti-government protests constitutes every Arab government's worst nightmare. Soccer, alongside Islam, offers a rare platform in the Middle East, a region populated by authoritarian regimes that control all public spaces, for the venting of pent-up anger and frustration."

Soccer certainly isn't the only prism through which one can view the world, but it is one of the best.

1 comment:

PatinDC said...

Thank you for that interesting perspective. Lots to think about.