Football requires freedom to flourish [Archives:2006/961/Opinion]

July 3 2006

Mustafa Rajeh
The scene was repeated more than once with the beginning of the World Cup Finals. In their syndicate, thousands of journalists gathered with their eyes glued to a screen that showed the World Cup competition in Germany. Suddenly, the power cut off, and in a dark atmosphere, viewers vented their rage by badmouthing the Ministry of Electricity and the government which could not supply the capital with good electrical transformers, even during the World Cup.

One of the viewers shouted and announced that he had discovered a suitable resolution: to call the electrical station and tell them to put the power back on because journalists were having a meeting. The lie was not sufficient, as the group of journalists soon thought that employees at the electrical station might be sitting in front of television screen too.

Huge crowds sitting in front of screens are the result of the World Cup only being available on a pay-per-view basis, which has deprived millions of people from enjoying the event. Huge screens have been set up by the government, in addition to other screens in syndicates, associations, and clubs. The monopoly over the distribution of the World Cup matches have created opportunities for satellite engineers to make money by using an African channel which is airing the event live instead of paying for the rights. Viewers, however, cannot understand the commentary since it is in a different language. Many say that enjoying the match is the purpose of watching, so there is no need for the commentary, which is not often good in any case.

Football commentary requires art and creativity, culture and capacity to avoid boredom on the part of millions of viewers. During the game pitting Argentina against Serbia, the excitement was high due to individual skills and distinctive performance of the Argentinean team. With each goal, viewers would turn their faces towards one another shocked by the style of the Tunisian commentator Essam Al-Shawali. Often, his comments were better than Argentina's performance.

We all know that football is the most popular game in the world, but what we have seen over the past weeks has revealed that there is an exceptional adoration of the game on the part of Yemenis. This is traceable to the previous Word Cup finals in Korea and Japan where stands were often empty of fans, matches were often weak with unconvincing performances, and games were usually played at noon Yemeni time. People in Yemen favor viewing matches during qat sessions that usually start in the afternoon.

Watching the World Cup on a pay-per-view basis have forced people to enjoy the event in groups, creating an electric atmosphere places like Al-Dherafi Stadium and Al-Sab'een Park. On all these counts, one can say that this World Cup is better in terms of organization, follow-up, and enjoyment. The days to come should prove this as the strong teams appear to be playing at their peak and the tournament involves several brilliant stars.

The most important thing is that football has learned to prefer individual skills and creativity as demonstrated by Ronaldinho, Kaka, Missie, Ricardo and others. In the past, creativity and a quick pace often conflicted with a coach's plans and tactics. But, football escaped the downsides of a coach's plans, which deny fans the right to enjoy the game.

The ugly and depressive voices that used to criticize football and its fans in past tourneys have disappeared. In other words, these voices became isolated to some media outlets where freethinkers hold the view that football shifts people's attention away from national issues.

I still remember a writer, who criticized the game four years ago saying that the World Cup is a futile event. There is no wonder that sporting activities should not be an alternative to people's interests, as sport is a culture and an exciting profession constituting one of the limitations in the human economic activities.

Football can prosper only in a free atmosphere and freedom is the key to everything. No sporting activities can flourish in an oppressive community that imposes restrictions on individuals, and therefore hinders the discovery of talented athletes. For football to flourish, it requires an atmosphere similar to that made out of a former taxi driver, a coach the quality of Beckerman for the Argentinean team and the shoemaker Lula a president for Brazil.

Mustafa Rajeh is a Yemeni journalist and human rights activist.