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Arabs Angry at Ghana Over World Cup Flag Incident

  • Vivian Salama

Arab soccer fans are expressing outrage after a player on Ghana's national team triumphantly waved an Israeli flag to celebrate a goal scored by his team at the World Cup. Player John Paintsil normally plays for an Israeli club. In a formal apology issued by the Ghana Football Association, officials say the Ghanaian defender will not be reprimanded.

It was during the 84th minute of Saturday's World Cup match between Ghana and the Czech Republic when Arab fans' cheers fell silent. After Ghana scored its second goal against its opponent, the team's defender John Paintsil celebrated in a way no one expected - he pulled an Israeli flag from his sock and waved it for cameras.

The move immediately struck a chord with Arab spectators. After calling the goal, legendary Egyptian sports announcer and former footballer Mimi El-Sherbini paused momentarily then said, on the air, "What are you doing, man?"

Egyptian soccer fans like Ibrahim El-Houdaiby were outraged.

"It would not bother me the same if it were a French flag that was raised simply because French does not occupy an Arab country, it does not kill civilians everyday; it does not kill or damage houses everyday, so this is a different situation," explained El-Houdaiby.

Many Egyptian soccer fans were backing Ghana's team prior to this incident, as it is the only team from Africa expected to advance in the World Cup.

Ghana is scheduled to play the United States on Thursday, but fans like El-Houdaiby believe they would still rather support Ghana over the United States, given the existing political sentiments against the United States.

Egypt is one of only two countries in the Arab world which has made peace with Israel since the nation was established a half century ago. Nonetheless, the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians means most Arabs regard Israel as an enemy.

Regardless of the politics, some analysts, like Egyptian sports columnist Hassan El-Mestekawi, argue that the move by Paintsil violated the basic principles of international sportsmanship.

"We were angered because soccer promotes ideologies of peace and understanding between human beings and it has no correlation with politics," El-Mestekawi said.

Paintsil normally plays for Israel's Hapoel club. Israeli newspapers argue that the gesture served as a demonstration of the alliance between Israel and the less than 100 Ghanaian nationals who call the Jewish state home.

The Ghana Football Association has apologized for Paintsil's actions, blaming what it called the "naivety" of the player. Association spokesman Randy Abbey added that what the player did "does not represent the political views of the team, the Ghana Football Association or indeed the Ghana government".

Beyond the sensitivities that exist between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the official policy of FIFA - the International Football Association - prohibits discriminatory acts - be it against race, religion or politics. Paintsil has not been reprimanded and he defends his actions by saying he just wanted to thank Israeli soccer fans for their support.

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