Thursday, January 26, 2012

The World Cup Mission and the Revolution

Egypt has qualified to participate in just one World Cup soccer tournament since 1934.  This, notwithstanding the country having a highly talented player pool, one of the oldest soccer federations, largest populations  and most passionate fan bases on the continent.  The reasons for this failure are educational in observing the ebbs and flows of events in Egypt since last January. 
Awaiting greatness 
Like the mass demonstrations of Tahrir, there is real energy, passion and potential in Egyptian football that can make an impact, but there is also chronically haphazard organization, unstable leadership and a tendency to allow emotions to overtake performance holding things back.  There is always a "what-if" feeling about how some young star or group of players could have been great, but for being ill-nurtured by the surrounding chaos.  The forty day league stoppages to allow a group of junior players to prepare to play a friendly match, ad-hoc club decisions to pull out of tournaments, nutty decisions to grant “exclusive” licenses to televise matches to half a dozen stations, and players bowing in prayer after scoring goals on handballs or breaking down into uncontrollable bouts of tears after an adverse decision or insult from the even more emotional crowd, have all contributed to a record of underachievement. 

The revolutionary fervor is being constrained by similar limitations.  Notwithstanding great promise and belief, the mass movements, however strong, are simply insufficient to effectuating sustained change, and in some ways these popular outbursts are obstructing the cause of sustainable reform.  The explosive street demonstrations, like the great Cairo Stadium crowds, feel strong enough to move mountains, but also are subject to wild mood swings with each attack and counter-attack.  This has made the impossible suddenly become possible, but has also been unnerving, unsettling and unpredictable.  The direct and indirect consequence of this has been the breakthrough victory of bringing to an end the presidency, followed by disappointment upon disappointment stemming from a lack of cohesion and order.  The scheduling mess of the parliamentary elections and haphazard roadmap to constitutional reforms rivals the randomness of the domestic league scheduling.  The Ahly/Islamic – Zamalek/enlightened split dominates at the expense of national interests.  The Egyptian Football Association/ruling generals complicate matters further by pursuing their own interests. 

What Egypt – footballers and revolutionaries alike – needs most is a modicum of organization, institutional stability and leadership that will allow the individual genius of its players and people to emerge.  The national team has taken the risky and brave decision of appointing an American coach to take charge of the mission to qualify for Brazil in 2014.  Maybe the mere distance of Bob Bradley from the morass of Egyptian football is what is needed to impose the discipline that will take the team to the next level, like the institutional discipline that can come from working with international financial institutions.  One can hope.
Ya Hossam ya Hassan!

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