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Holland Park Press

Syrian Football

17 September 2013 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar

On September 6, the Syrian national football team played a friendly match in and against Lebanon. So, the Syrian national team still plays football, even though home games take place in Tehran, courtesy of its ally Iran.

However, FIFA has disqualified Syria from the 2014 World Cup. Because of the war, you would suppose, but that’s not the case. They had fielded a player who wasn’t entitled to play!

The similarity between football and the situation is Syria is that everyone has an opinion about it. This ranges from ‘take action immediately’ to ‘turn a blind eye’.

Was John Kerry’s remark that the USA would refrain from taking military action if Syria handed over its chemical weapons a slip of the tongue or not? Even among the experts there is much disagreement. Some dismissed the remark as stupid, whereas others considered Kerry very cunning.

Watching John Kerry is like watching an episode of Thunderbirds; he never looks startled.

Stupid or not, Russia didn’t hesitate for a minute. The New York Times published an opinion piece by President Putin of Russia. He wrote: ‘It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States’. The conqueror of Georgia and Chechnya masquerading as the conscience of the world; it couldn’t get any crazier.

At first, the Syrian conflict was about democracy, but it now looks more like a global war between Shiite and Sunni ideologies being fought out in Syria. Shiite Iran and Shiite Hezbollah support the Syrian regime while most of the Sunnis, including Al Qaeda, support the Syrian opposition. And many of the big countries are primarily thinking strategically.

It looks like the centuries-long war between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Think of the Thirty Years’ War, 1618–1648 – it will take its time, then. Or think of the animosity between Manchester City and Manchester United, or between Ajax and Feyenoord. Ajax fans have nicknamed the Feyenoord supporters ‘cockroaches’. Apparently divisions along tribal lines are ingrained in human beings. Every time I see a hooligan I think: it’s lucky they don’t have chemical weapons.

I live in a peaceful country, but a player from Vitesse, the local football club in Arnhem, can’t walk down the road in Nijmegen, a nearby city and the home of the arch-rival NEC football club. It’s the same in reverse.

And in my home town, Arnhem, the local councillor responsible for sport had to erect a fence across a playing field to split it between two rival amateur clubs who were unable to share it.

Even in a tiny village such as Spakenburg there are ‘Blues’ and ‘Reds’. Support for one club or the other often divides families.

‘It’s about time someone read this man the riot act. It’s simply inhuman what this man gets up to. A complete idiot.’ Is this about Assad? No, these are remarks about Louis van Gaal, the manager of the Dutch national football team, sparked by the way he answers questions during interviews.

They are the utterances of Dutch football expert Johan Derksen, nicknamed the ‘savage Schnauzer’ because of his extravagant head of hair.

Talk about football is littered with hackneyed phrases, but from time to time they appear gift-wrapped. Recently Johan Cruijff said, when commenting on health and sport: ‘The body you are born with is the body you die in.’

Cruijff is famous for his one-liners. Take this one: ‘Italy doesn’t win its matches, but we can lose the match to them.’ Substitute Assad and you’re talking about the conflict between Assad and the opposition. ‘Assad doesn’t win, but we can lose.’

You can’t really play football against a nation that uses chemical weapons. Isn’t it about time to order a total boycott of the Syrian national team? Just as a starting point. Ultimately, someone needs to intervene against Assad and the opposition to help the civil population. It’s only then that anyone will qualify for the Nobel Peace Prize.

© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press

arnold jansen op de haar

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