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Jul 25 2014

Footballers and Politics – should the two mix?

Lionel Messi - usually one to stay quiet when it comes to politics

Lionel Messi – usually one to stay quiet when it comes to politics

Its very rarely that you will see anything political on this blog. I’m not talking football politics – that I relish. I’m talking real world politics, conflict, war, plane crashes, the whole shebang.

 

On the few occasions that I have spoken about politics, its always been directly linked to football, like the Qatar 2022 saga, for instance. Its not that I don’t have an opinion, I’ve just chosen not to get tangled up in online arguments when I could be snickering over Cristiano Ronaldo’s Pepe’s latest dumb hairstyle (which has gotten me tangled up in a few arguments too, mind you). And that’s not to say that I’m not clued up with whats happening around me. Quite the contrary. My love for reading and writing has me combing through newspapers and online resources to get a better understanding of the world around me. But again, I enjoy writing about happy things: Fooball. Food. Travel. (Seriously, you should check out my food and travel blog, Voyages of a Foodie). You will hardly see me writing about my profession, because medicine, for all the joy it brings me, can be depressing.

Well, recent events have forced me to break this rule, that I’ve so eloquently outline for you above. Gaza, #MH17 & #AH 5017 to be precise. Perhaps its the close proximity (in terms of timing) of these to events to the World Cup that’s gotten footballers and their fans to cry foul. Maybe you, like me have picked up the undertone of some folk on social media. There’s been whispers of  excluding Israel from all footballing activity much like South Africa was during apartheid. Suggestions in hushed tones of stripping Russia of the rights to host the World Cup 2018. We’ve already seen the crisis seep into football on numerous occasions so far. A friendly match between Maccabi Haifa and Lille was postponed after pro-Palestinian protesters became a bit violent. Footballers have become embroiled in the discussion, many taking to twitter to voice their opinions. One very outspoken footballer, Joey Barton, tweeted his condemnation of Israel, and faced a mouthful from Israeli footballer Yossi Benayoun:

Joey Barton and Yossi Benayoun tweets

Joey Barton and Yossi Benayoun face off on twitter

Benayoun has since deleted his tweet (a la Rihanna).

But what really ruffled feathers was when one of the people I follow proclaimed that he/she now hated Lionel Messi because he is a supporter of Israel. What followed were a series of Messi photos holding pro-Israeli shirts, while Cristiano Ronaldo was depicted in photos sympathizing with the Palestinians. All those images were later revealed to be photo shopped by one savvy tweep: 

Lionel MEssi Photo Shopped pro-Israel images

Lionel Messi photo shopped images ( image via @messi10stats)

The thing with football is this: the reach and influence that the game and its players has is often underestimated. So much so that, upon seeing one fake image, some fans decided to stop supporting Messi. While Football can unite people, it can also tear apart people. Footballers these days aren’t just footballers, with the fame and fortune comes added responsibility. Whatever they say influences the opinions of millions. On the flip side, in the current age of social media, photo shop and other apps, its so easy to twist anything and pass it off as real, either enhancing or tarnishing someone’s public image, as seen above. But the big question is: should it matter if Lionel Messi does or doesn’t support Israel or Palestine? Every person alive is entitled to their political opinion, but should footballers, like Barton and Benayoun, come forward and voice themselves especially surrounding such a sensitive issue? Or should, like the image above says, religion and politics be left out of football altogether?

What do you guys think?

-P

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