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Monday, January 24, 2011

Jordanian Performance in Asia Cup Boosts Business and Women’s Soccer


Jordan may have been knocked out of the Asia Cup by Uzbekistan in the quarterfinals, but the team’s performance has boosted the country’s women’s soccer, an often controversial issue across the Middle East, as well as its soccer business.

At the very moment that Iran was banning women from watching soccer matches in public, Jordanian women were joining their male families to watch their team play in Qatar on television and welcome their national squad’s festive return to Amman, The Jordan Times reports.

Jordanian Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, a half-brother of King Abdullah, who earlier this month was elected to the FIFA executive committee, campaigned on a platform that called for increased support for women’s soccer. Jordan’s women’s national team last year won the gold medal in the Women’s Football Cup Arabia 2010.

Women interviewed by the Jordan Times attributed the boost in female interest in the beautiful game to the performance of the Jordanian squad in Qatar. Some of those interviewed said it had shifted their interest away from European teams. Those interviewed said however they preferred to watch games at home rather than in coffeehouses.

Businesses in the Jordanian capital reported a similar boost in the wake of the Asia Cup, according to the newspaper. Businesses said they were witnessing increased purchases of Jordanian flags, T-shirts, jerseys of shopper’s favourite players, music CDs celebrating the Jordanian team and shmaghs, the red and white male Jordanian headgear.

“Before the start of the Cup, only tourists came to buy T-shirts to have something to remind them of Jordan. Now, all Jordanians are coming to buy team T-shirts," the newspaper quoted sports shop owner Ahmed Mahassir, as saying.

One key question yet to be answered is whether the boost in interest in soccer will position the game as a unifying or divisive force in Jordan at a time that the country is experiencing mass demonstrations in the wake of the overthrow of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Protestors are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Samir Rifai and improved economic conditions.

Soccer has factored in recent protests in Jordan in ways it didn’t in protests elsewhere in the Arab world. Riots erupted last month after a match between Amman arch rivals Al-Wahdat and Al-Faisali and left 250 people, including 30 police officers, injured.
Al Faisali is widely seen as an East Bank team while Al Wahdat symbolizes both urbanized Palestinians as well as some 1. 8 million Palestinians that live as refugees in the kingdom, often in camps like Al Wahdat to which the soccer club traces its origins. Al Wahdat President and well-known businessman Tareq Khouri was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison barely two weeks after the riots for insulting a police officer during at Al Wahdat-Al Faisali match in March of last year.

Paradoxically, Jordanians cheered their national team in Qatar while at the same time hitting the streets of Jordanian cities to protest their government’s policies and demand the very kind of reforms in terms of transparency and good governance that Prince Ali wants to see introduced to FIFA.

So far, the protests have cut across the dividing line between East Bank Jordanians of Bedouin stock and urbanized, more affluent Jordanians of Palestinian origin. It remains to be seen whether the enhanced status of the Jordanian team will reinforce that trend or whether widespread discontent in Jordan will exasperate other cleavages in Jordanian society, including a widespread sense of discrimination among Jordanians of Palestinian descent when it comes to employment in the public sector employment and the military as well as an electoral system for the lower house of parliament that allegedly favours East Bank representation.


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