Showing posts from January, 2011

USSF Reluctant To Cancel Egyptian Soccer Match Reflects Muddled U.S.Foreign Policy

As the United States muddles through the crisis threatening the 30-year rule of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, so does the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) as it struggles with what to do about a friendly against Africa champion Egypt scheduled to be played in Cairo on February 9. By failing to postpone the match amid warnings to travellers by the U.S. State Department not to travel to Egypt that is being wracked by mass anti-government demonstrations, U.S. plans to evacuate American citizens and the cancellation of most international flights to Cairo, the USSF like the U.S. government does not want to be seen as turning against an Egypt governed by Mubarak. The USSF’s reluctance to cancel the match contrasts starkly with the Egyptian Football Association’s decision on Thursday to cancel all premier league matches in a bid to prevent soccer matches from becoming another platform for further protests. The federation has yet to comment officially on the status of the match six days

Anti-government protests in Sudan Could Threaten African Soccer Tournament

Anti-government protests sweeping the Arab world expanded into Sudan on Sunday, threatening the second African Cup of Nations for Home-Based Players (CHAN2011), scheduled to kick off on February 4. Officials of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) are closely monitoring developments in Sudan after police beat and arrested students demanding the resignation of Sudanese President Omar al Bashir. Officials said privately they saw as of this writing no reason for the tournament to be cancelled. CAF concern however is fuelled by mass protests in Egypt, with which Sudan is closely linked, that have already forced Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to appoint a new government and that are gunning for an end to his 30-year rule. The Sudanese protests were inspired by the revolt in Egypt as well as mass protests in Tunisia that earlier this month ousted President Zine Abedine Ben Ali. The student demonstrations coincided with the first announcement of the results of a referendum that

Libya Bans Soccer Matches In Fear of Anti-Government Protests

Libya, concerned that mass anti-government demonstrations in neighbouring Egypt and the toppling of President Zine Abedine Ben Ali of Tunisia on its western border could fuel further protests in the North African country, has cancelled all soccer matches, according to Al Jazeera . Al Jazeera’s Arabic-language news network quoted unidentified Libyan sources as saying a state of emergency and a security alert had been declared in Libyan areas bordering on Egypt. It said security sources were deploying in the region. The sources told Al Jazeera that security forces were instructed to stop all public gatherings. The decision of the Libyan Football Federation to cancel all matches is believed to have been taken as a result of government attempts to prevent further demonstrations in Libya. Soccer has emerged as an important factor in the wave of protests sweeping the Arab world. Soccer fans in Egypt are a major force in the protests that have already forced President Hosni Mubarak to fo

Egypt vs Mubarak

Farid Kahhat just posted this on his Facebook wall :

Blair Jr Hopes to Trade on Tarnished Name as Middle East Soccer Agent

The son of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Nicholas Blair, hopes to trade on the family name as a soccer agent for Middle Eastern players at a time that the policies with which his father is identified appear to be crumbling on the streets of Cairo and other Arab capitals. Nicholas Blair has registered as a soccer agent with the Football Association in England. Blair, 25, reportedly , established Magnitude Football together with Gabriel Moraes, a university friend. The two are believed to be scouring the Middle East for budding Arab soccer stars. The younger Blair may have chosen an inconspicuous moment to target the Middle East.  Events in the region over the past months have left core policies associated with Tony Blair, already identified with the controversial Iraq war, in shambles. Blair, the current Middle East peace negotiator, for the Quartet which groups the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia, has seen hopes dashed for a resolutio

Zamalek Beats Ulinzi While Ahly Tries to Beat Mubarak

The roots of the rivalry between Cairo arch rivals Zamelek FC and Al Ahly Sporting Club were evident this weekend with Zamalek beating Kenya’s Ulinzi Stars 4:0 in Nairobi’s Nyayo National Stadium, while Ahly fans focused on protesting against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule in the streets of Cairo. “This victory is for Egypt,” Kenya’s The Nation newspaper quoted Zamalek coach and Africa’s most capped player, Hossam Hassan, as saying. “We just played our best and concentrated on the game on the pitch. We pray and hope that things will be back to normal when we play in the return match at home,” Hassan said. Zamalek scored its victory at the very moment that Al Ahly soccer fans emerged as one of the most significant forces in four days of protests that have already forced Mubarak to dismiss his government. To be sure, large numbers of Zamalek fans went shoulder-to-shoulder on Egyptian streets with their Ahly rivals, demanding the departure of Mubarak as well

Soccer Fans Emerge as Driver in Egyptian Protests

Egyptian soccer fans are emerging as one of the most significant forces in four days of protests that have already forced Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to dismiss his government and are gunning for his ouster. Prominent Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah , speaking on Al Jazeera ,  said the uprising’s most effective organizational strength comes, in the words of Paul Woodward of the War in Context blog, from a quarter that has been ignored by most of the media: soccer fans known as   ultras . “The ultras — the football fan associations — have played a more significant role than any political group on the ground at this moment,” Alaa said on Al Jazeera. “Maybe we should get the ultras to rule the country,” he joked. The ultras are fans of Cairo’s storied Al Ahly (The National) Sports Club. They are a key part of the alliance of youth activists, Islamists, and workers rebelling against the Egyptian government because of its failure to alleviate poverty, eradicate corruption and

Morocco to Host 2015 African Cup

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has awarded Morocco the hosting of the 2015 African Cup of Nations. Morocco defeated South Africa, its only rival in the bid, which was awarded the 2017 tournament. CAF also awarded to Morocco the hosting of the 2013 Africa Under-17 Championship. The CAF decision is Morocco’s consolation prize after it lost in 2004 to South Africa the competition for last year’s World Cup. Morocco hosted the Africa Cup once before in 1988. The North African nation won the tournament in 1976. Morocco has recently built stadiums in Fes, Marrakech and Tangiers to complement its venues in Casablanca and Rabat.

Israeli Soccer Commentator Under Fire for Alleged Racist Remarks

A prominent Israeli soccer commentator is being investigated by the Israel Broadcasting Authority on charges of having made off-camera racist remarks. Danny Neuman, a former player for Betar Jerusalem, which has close ties, to Israel’s right wing and counts Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanjahu and other senior Israeli officials among its supporters, is accused of advocating the expulsion of left-wing fans of Betar rival Hapoel Tel Aviv and Israel’s Palestinian population. Hapoel is associated with Israel’s labour movement. Neuman, a commentator for Israel’s Channel One, made his comments just before he this week commented on a match between Hapoel and Kiryat Shmone FC, according to Maariv newspaper. Segments of Israel’s right-wing, including members of Netanjahu’s cabinet, favour resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and preserving the Jewish nature of Israel, by expelling the country’s Palestinian population. Neuman, according to Maariv, charged that Hapoel fans were

Activists Use 2022 World Cup to Force Improvement of Qatari Labor Conditions

Human rights and labour activists have embraced Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup as a way to pressure the oil-rich Gulf state to improve the working conditions of its majority expatriate workforce. With foreigners accounting for three quarters of Qatar’s population, foreign labor, primarily from Asia, will shoulder the burden of building the world class soccer, transportation and hospitality facilities Qatar has promised for the World Cup. Street signs in the Qatari capital Doha read: “Don’t kill us, we are at work.” The signs are as much an admonition to vehicle drivers to be cautious as they are an appeal to Qatar’s population, many of whom have double-edged feelings towards the workers. The workers are a necessarily evil, but over time they are almost certain to change the nature of society and make their impact on national culture and identity – a notion that sends chills down Qatari spines. Unskilled and low skilled labor work in conditions of “forced labor

Algerian Attitudes Toward Egyptian Crisis Colored by Soccer Rivalry

As Algeria struggles to come to grips with anti-government protests on its own turf, soccer is the key to why Algerian leaders are watching with mixed feelings Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak fight for the survival of his 30-year rule. Proponents of a domino theory in the Middle East identify Algeria alongside Syria, Jordan, Yemen and Libya as next in line to see mass protests rewrite its domestic political landscape. Algeria has witnessed on and off demonstrations for the past month in protest of rising commodity prices and for greater individual and political freedom. Protests in Tunisia earlier this month ended the 23-year rule of Tunisian President Zine Abedine Ben Ali, who has since gone into exile in Saudi Arabia. Concern about who may be next to be targeted has gripped leaders across most of the Arab world and is no doubt prevalent in Algeria too. But soccer has troubled the waters of Algerian-Egyptian relations for the past 30 years and there is not much love lost between

After World Cup 2022, Qatar wins 2015 World Handball Championship

Barely two months after winning the bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar solidified its emerging position as a global sports hub by snagging the hosting of the 2015 handball world championships. In doing so, Qatar fared better at the International Handball Federation in Malmo, Sweden, winning the hosting of both the men’s and women’s tournament than it did in the current championship. Qatar failed to qualify for the semi finals. Qatar beat out defending Olympic, European and world champs France as well as Norway and Poland. The Gulf region has never before hosted a handball world championship. Although a smaller competition than the World Cup, the world's biggest sporting event, successful organization of the handball competition will enhance confidence in the tiny Gulf state's ability to host the World Cup. Last month's awarding by FIFA of the World Cup to Qatar sparked criticism because of its scorching summer heat, its small fan base as a result of a small pop

Egypt Blocks Independent Media, Allows Soccer and Illegal File Sharing

The embattled Mubarak regime may have selectively shutdown various news and communication outlets, but soccer news sites and illegal sharing sites are not among them, according to Gaza comedian Hani Almadhoun . “So you might not be able to express your opinion, but you can still download pirated copies of Black Swan,” Almadhou says.

US Still Set to Play in Egypt

It seems improbable that the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) will send it's men's national team for a friendly match against Egypt to Cairo, wracked by mass anti-government protests demanding the overthrow of 82-year old Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The Washington Post is reporting that the USSF at this point still plans to let the match scheduled for February 9 go ahead as planned. The US players are scheduled to arrive in Cairo on February 6. "As of now, we are still planning to play the match," the Post quoted USSF spokesman Neil Buethe as saying. Buethe said the federdation was monitoring the situation. Tens of thousands of Egyptians are clashing as of this writing in unprecedented protests that have swept several countries in the Middle East and already toppled Tunisian President Zine Abidine Ben Ali. Its hard to see how calm will return to Cairo any time soon. The Egyptian Football Association (EFA) on Thursday cancelled this weekend’s premier lea

Al Jazeera Set to Hire Controversial British Sports Presenters

Al Jazeera, in a bid to beef up its English-language soccer coverage, is reportedly set to hire two controversial Sky Sports presenters, who left the British broadcaster this week amid allegations of having made sexist comments. The expected hiring of Richard Keys and Andy Gray, reported by The Evening Standard , comes days after Jazeera won the rights to broadcast the 2018 and 2022 World Cups across the Middle East and North Africa. Keys and Gray, a former Everton striker, were forced to leave Sky after they were caught on tapes leaked on the Internet making sexist comments about a female assistant referee, Sian Massey. The two presenters’ departure was first reported by The Guardian .   Prominent soccer media critic Richard Whittall, writing on his blog, A More Splendid Life , wryly pointed out “the hypocrisy” of traditional media breaking the story given the   “sexism within its own ranks…”  Whittall noted that traditional soccer media have “largely been completely dismissive

UEFA Awards Hosting of U-21 Competition to Israel

UEFA Thursday restored a modicum of balance in the competition between Middle Eastern states for the rights to host major international sports events by naming Israel as the host nation for the 2013 European Under-21 Championship . The awarding of UEFA’s premier age competition comes six weeks after FIFA voted to give the hosting of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, the first Middle Eastern state to become the venue of the world’s biggest sporting event. Qatar is current hosting the Asian Cup. Although geographically located in the Middle East, Israel competes since 1994 in the European league after Arab states rejected it from the Asian confederation. Israel’s winning bid for the U-21 championship faced competition from England, Bulgaria, Wales and the Czech Republic. Israel previously hosted the European Under-16 tournament in 2000 and staged UEFA's annual Congress in Tel Aviv last year. In advance of the U-21 tournament, Israel is building new stadia in Haifa, Netanya and Petah

Egyptian Anti-Government Protest Force Cancellation of League Matches

With Egypt bracing itself for a fourth day of mass anti-government protests, the Egyptian Football Association says it has cancelled Friday’s premier league soccer matches . The EFA in an announcement on its website gave no reason for the cancellation, which most probably is at the request of the government in a bid to prevent soccer matches from becoming a platform for further protests. “The EFA board has decided to postpone the first division games that were scheduled for 28 and 29 January. The fixtures will be determined later,” statement said Four league matches were scheduled over the Egyptian weekend for Friday and three on Saturday. Cairo’s Zamalek’s was scheduled to play Haras El-Hodoud on Monday. The EFA said the games would be rescheduled at a later date. Anti-government activists have called for mass protests after midday prayers on Friday. At least seven people have died so far in the protests aimed at forcing 82-year old Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from office.

European Clubs See Opportunity in Middle East’s Failure in Asia Cup

Mounting criticism of Middle Eastern nations' failure to nurture soccer talent at a young age in the wake of the region’s dismal performance in this year’s Asian Cup in Qatar has created a business opportunity for European clubs like FC Arsenal and FC Inter Milan. Both clubs have in recent days announced that they were opening soccer schools in the Middle East and North Africa. The schools offer the clubs an opportunity to generate cash and scout for young talent. They also allow ruling Arab elites, rattled by mass protests across the Middle East and North Africa, to project an image of tackling an issue that has sparked criticism from the media and soccer professionals alike as a result of all Middle Eastern nations being knocked out of the Asia tournament in Qatar by the quarter finals. In the latest initiative, Abu Dhabi Sports Council (ADSC) secretary general Mohammad Ebrahim Al Mahmoud this week announced the opening of an Inter Milan Academy for nine to 12 year olds in Z

Al Jazeera Wins World Cup Broadcast Rights

Al Jazeera, the Qatar-owned path-breaking but controversial television network, has won the right to broadcast the 2018 Russia and 2022 Qatar World Cups in the Middle East and North Africa, FIFA said in a statement . Fifa said Al Jazeera had acquired the right to air the games via cable TV, satellite, terrestrial, mobile and broadband in 23 territories and countries in the first broadcast-rights deal to be struck since last month’s awarding of hosting of the tournaments to Russia and Qatar. FIFA did not disclose what Al Jazeera paid for the broadcast rights. Al Jazeera Sports in 2009 paid a reported US$1 billion for the rights for the sports content broadcast by Arab Radio and Television, which included the FIFA World Cup in 2010 in South Africa and the 2014 tournament to be played in Brazil. “Al Jazeera Sport more than proved its commitment to delivering high-calibre coverage to football fans during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa. FIFA’s aim is to make the World Cup as acce

Soccer Fans Play Key Role in Egyptian Protests

With Egypt entering its second day of unprecedented anti-government protests, soccer fans constitute a well-organized and feared pillar of the marshalling grassroots coalition determined to ensure that President Hosni Mubarak suffers the same fate as Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who was toppled earlier this month by mass demonstrations. The soccer fans, including the ultras of Cairo’s storied Al Ahly (The National) Sports Club, are part of an alliance of youth activists, Islamists, and workers protesting against the government’s failure to alleviate poverty, eradicate corruption and provide jobs as well as its employment of repression and torture to stymie opposition.  Protestor’s demands range from increased political freedoms, to dismissal of the hated interior minister to an end to Mubarak’s 30-year rule and guarantees that the 82-year old leader will not be succeeded by his son, Gamal. “What we saw on the streets yesterday (Tuesday) are not just Muslim Brotherhood

FIFA Unlikely to Stand Up for Women’s Rights in Iran

FIFA President Sepp Blatter is one of the few men able to influence Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, but with a row brewing over women's rights in football in the country, it would still be a surprise to see the world's governing body act. Read the rest of my article on Inside Futbol

Gulf States Look at Soccer to Tackle Demographic Problems

As the United Arab Emirates and other energy-rich Gulf states like Qatar investigate ways to redress their demographic imbalances , soccer constitutes both a litmus test of how far governments have yet to go in building equitable societies and an instrument to give their expatriate populations a feeling of having a stake in their newly-found homes. A mere 13 percent of the UAE’s population has citizenship. In Qatar that figure jumps to 26 percent in Qatar while Kuwaitis account for 34 percent of Kuwait’s population. Those percentages are dropping as Gulf states import large numbers of expatriate labor to staff their countries’ rapid development. The decreasing number of their own nationals is forcing the Gulf states to explore ways of maintaining their identity and ensuring that their minority political and social control is sustainable. With expatriates having virtually no rights to indefinite permanent residency, let alone citizenship, that is a tall order. The question is whether

The Gloves Are Off: Bin Hammam Calls For End to Blatter’s FIFA Rule

The gloves are off in Qatar’s escalating feud with FIFA President Sepp Blatter.  Asian Football Confederation chief Mohamed bin Hammam, a Qatari national unlikely to act without at least tacit government backing, lashed out on Monday, charging that Blatter had served too long as head of soccer’s world governing body and needs to be replaced. Bin Hammam’s remarks are the latest sign that he may be preparing to challenge Blatter in May when the 74-year old FIFA president is up for re-election if no other credible challenger emerges. “I did not make up my mind yet,” Bin Hammam told the Associated Press . “I would rather wait and see.” Bin Hamman has suggested in the past that his ambition was to become FIFA president, but has always left unclear whether he feels that the May election is the right time to do so. “I’m actually seeking to see competition within FIFA for the post. I would prefer to see two candidates proposing themselves, or maybe more than two proposing themselves to th

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 in

Government Interference Undermines Middle Eastern Soccer’s Prospects

If there is a lesson in all eight Middle Eastern teams being knocked out of the Asia Cup, it is that they need to stop judging their coaches on the principle of ‘you are as good as your team’s last victory.’ Frenchman Bruno Metsu has led Qatar’s national team to its best performance ever in an international tournament, proving that the tiny Gulf state can hold its own on the pitch. Contrary to expectations, Qatar made it to the quarterfinals, narrowly being knocked out of the tournament by a 3:2 defeat by Japan. "We wanted to show Asia and the world that we have a good team and we succeeded in that. "I am happy with the performance of the entire team and the coach. They gave their best," said Qatar Football Association (QFA) President Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Ahmed al Thani after Qatar’s loss. Yet, Metsu’s job is on the line the line when the QFA meets this week to evaluate Qatar’s performance in the Asia Cup. Al Thani’s comments notwithstanding, Qatari newspape

Should FIFA ban Iran?

Some have responded on various soccer fora to my blog post, Iran Bans Women From Watching Asian Cup in Movie Theaters , saying FIFA should ban or sanction Iran. Its an interesting proposition. Sanctions haven't swayed Iran on the nuclear issue but soccer is a much more emotive, passionate matter in Iran. And as mentioned in my post, Iran Coach Calls For Politics-free Soccer , the Iranian regime is extremely sensitive to soccer-sparked anti-government protests.

Iran Bans Women from Watching Asian Cup in Movie Theaters

Women in Iran could be banned in advance of Iran’s crucial Asian Cup game against South Korea from watching soccer matches in public movie theatres, according to government-affiliated Iranian media organizations. The ban would amount to a virtual prohibition on women watching soccer in public given that they are also barred from stadia when men play. The proposed ban, reported by the semi-official ILNA news agency and Khabar Online, came in response to a statement by an unidentified police agency warning that "the presence of women and families at movie theatres increases security risks and inappropriate behaviour." It was not immediately clear whether the Iranian ministry of culture and guidance has confirmed the proposed ban. Iranian movie industry executives said they were waiting to hear a decision from the ministry. Khabar Online, however, reported that the ban had become effective prior to this week’s match between Iran and the UAE, which was shown in three theatres

Qatar’s Winning of 2022 World Cup Produces First Peace Dividend

Qatar’s successful bid for the 2022 World Cup appears to be producing its first peace dividend. As part of its need to put infrastructure for the tournament in place, Qatar has revived plans to build a bridge to the Gulf island state of Bahrain. That may not sound like a big deal but relations between the two states have been troubled by disputes over territory and fishing rights. Dubbed the ‘Friendship Bridge,’ Qatar and Bahrain first discussed plans to build the 40 kilometer-long bridge more than a decade ago. A 2001 International Court of Justice decision in the two Gulf states’ dispute over the Hawar Islands in favour of Bahrain did little to smooth feathers and put the bridge project back on track. Qatar’s need to fill its stadia during the World Cup has however suddenly elevated its interest in building the $4 billion bridge to Bahrain, that is not only more populously, but is also linked to Saudi Arabia, the region’s powerhouse, by a causeway. The bridge will enable road traf