Football torn apart by politics

JULY 17, 2014. It will be a date mourned by many Malaysians and around the globe. Flight MH17, on its way to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam crashed at the disputed Donetsk region in Ukraine.

The flight carrying 283 passengers and 15 crew members is believed to have been brought down by a surface-to-air missile - allegedly the BUK missile - some two hours after departing Schiphol airport.

One shot, 298 lives, their war, and our flight. This to me is one of the worst air tragedies I’ve ever seen. The dispute is between the Ukrainians and the pro-Russian separatist, supported by Kremlin, but why shoot down our plane and the innocent lives on board the plane?

And whenever this kind of incidents happens, sports teams will be affected and in this case, two Newcastle United fans were on board the flight. They were on their way to Australia to watch the team’s pre-season games there.

It hurts me to see fans with such passion just perish just like that. Not to forget, some of the families who were supposed to return back for Raya. I only want this … that the perpetrator to be brought to justice.

When news wires mentioned the word Donetsk, my thought was Doonbas Arena and the indomitable side from Ukraine. Shakhtar Donetsk led by Romanian coach Mircea Lucescu have won five consecutive Ukrainian Premier League titles and UEFA Cup in 2009.

Most of their star players are from Brazil and recently, they played in a friendly in France but Lucescu wouldn’t have expected this to happen. Six of their players refused to return due to the tensions in Donetsk.

Brazilians Fred, Douglas Costa, Ismaily, Alex Teixeira and Dentinho and Argentinian forward Facundo Ferreyra refused to travel to Ukraine after the plane was shot down at their area.

The 21-year-old Fred (not to be confused with the Brazilian forward who had an abysmal World Cup) has since returned to Donetsk and the club announced on Wednesday it would move its headquarters to Kiev and play their games in the western city of Lviv. The disputed Donetsk region fell under the control of pro-Russian rebels on Apr 7 this year.

Since then, Ukrainian forces and the rebels from the so-called People’s Republic of Donetsk have been at odds with each other. This dispute is the not the only dispute that has affected football teams.

Israeli-Palestinian tensions have also affected their footballers. Recently, a friendly match in Austria had to be stopped after pro-Palestinian protesters invaded the pitch and attacked players from Maccabi Haifa, a club that plays in the Israeli league.

Fans carrying Turkish and Palestinian flags attacked the players during Maccabi’s friendly game against Lille in the 85th minute.

Former West Ham, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Queens Park Rangers playmaker Yossi Benayoun, who now plays for Maccabi was also in that match and he said that the players had to defend themselves.

Benayoun said to English tabloid, The Daily Mail, “As a football club we condemn all acts of verbal and physical violence. 

“In the closing minutes of the match we were attacked by thugs on the pitch simply because we are Israelis. We had no choice but to defend ourselves,”

If memory serves me right, Malaysian fans once booed Benayoun during Chelsea’s pre-season game against the Malaysian XI in 2012. He took it in his stride and impressed me with his display. Just because he was a Jew, he was heavily booed and some fans even shouted anti-Semitic slurs.

I oppose violence especially on the football pitch and stands. All we want is the game to be played beautifully and fans having a gala time supporting their sides. However, violence cannot be avoided in football these days.

Frustrating but that’s the reality. It is not Israel that is affected; the Israelis also robbed one talented Palestinian player off his playing career.

I came across this story from CNN and they interviewed a player who would have been sensation if it weren’t for the war.

Mahmoud Sarsak tried to cross from Gaza into the West Bank to take part in a match in 2009 but at the age of 22, his career was curtailed when the Israelis arrested him.

He was accused of membership of the Islamic Jihad group and denied access to lawyers but was never charged by Israel.

It wasn’t only Sarsak - Other footballers, including goalkeeper Omar Abu Rois, striker Muhammad Nimr and Zakaria Issa were jailed. Zakaria’s case was the worst when he was jailed for 16 years.

In 1991, Yugoslavia were group champions during the European Championship qualifiers but didn’t participate in the Euro 1992 after they were suspended from all international competitions after they were involved in ethnic conflicts that gripped the Balkan nations for many years. Ironically second placed Denmark took their place and won the tournament.

34 years ago, Malaysian football team were supposed to participate in the 1980 Olympic games in Moscow but boycotted the games due to the cold war. Thanks to politics, we couldn’t see our lads playing against top class international sides.

Politics affecting sports happens everywhere but taking away the platform for footballers or athletes to impress is no-no. All these crises are a hindrance to the growth of the sport.

Footballers from these areas are only concerned about one thing, to play the sport that they love - Football. The likes Sarsak, Douglas Costa, Ferreyra and Fred are there to fulfill their dreams to become professional footballers but now all they fear is their life!

I would like to convey my heartfelt condolences to the families affected by the MH17 tragedy. I would like to dedicate this Irish proverb to them, ““Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.”

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