Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Like any other football fan, I watched the African Cup of Nations semi-final between Algeria and Egypt which ended in a victory for the Egyptian team that scored four clean goals.
As for the final, I watched that with my actor friend Omar Sharif who also loves football and talks about it like an expert, as he played side-by-side at one time with [former] Egyptian football player and manager Saleh Selim. After the Egyptian national team and Al Ahly football team, Omar Sharif supports Arsenal.
Unfortunately, even though the descendants of the Pharaohs entertained us with their football skills and scored beautiful goals in the Algeria-Egypt match, we were really affected by the spirit with which the opposing team entered the stadium, as if it were entering a war and not a football match.
Thousands of years ago, the Pharaohs played different kinds of sports and took part in physical sports such as handball, weight lifting, racing games, dueling, wrestling and horse riding. They also played mind games such as chess and images of this were depicted on the walls of their tombs and their places of worship. There are other depictions in which we see young people being trained on the art of the games by their elders. There is a depiction representing someone being trained in archery in which we find that the trainer is saying: “Look in front of you and pull your arm [back] and aim for the target and don’t swerve right or left.” Among the kings and princes who were interested in practicing different kinds of sports was Prince Amenhotep who later became King Amenhotep II, son of the great King Thutmose III. The men of the palace complained about his son’s extravagance and expressed their fears for him but the King was happy about his son’s love of sports because it is a way to nurture the soul before the body. Some of the most important instructions that the trainers gave to the youngsters in wrestling was not to hit the opponent in harmful places and to protect the opponent’s life and not to resort to violence. Victory was given to the wrestler that was able to floor his opponent. These are instructions in a sport like wrestling so what is the matter with us when it comes to football these days?
The ancient Greeks also loved sports and the young and the old took part in sports in order to nurture the soul and build up the body. For that reason they held large celebrations every four years by organizing the Olympic Games in the city of Olympia. A full month before the event began it would be announced in every city so that any battles between cities would be suspended. A truce would be signed to ensure the safety of the roads leading to Olympia whether for the sportsmen taking part in the races or for the supporters who were keen to travel by land and sea to watch the games.
One of the most beautiful laws of the Olympic Games was adherence to the rules of the races and games. Fines were imposed upon anyone violating [these rules] and the money would go towards improving the stadiums or would be spent on the participants. The crime of cheating in races not only led to the player being banned from the race but he was also given a hefty fine that he would either have to pay himself or would have to be paid by his home city. Sometimes, the winner did not win prize money but a simple gift or an [olive] wreath. The biggest honor to a victor was to have a statue sculpted and for it to be placed in the Olympic Stadium next to statues of other sports figures. In the victor’s home city, he would be given a front row seat at the theatre free for the rest of his life…
Can we learn from the champions of the ancient Olympic Games and of the Pharaonic times before them that sports is not about fighting, attacking from behind and head-butting the referee?