As Algeria takes on Senegal in Friday's Africa Cup of Nations final, a Paris exhibit takes the long view of soccer (football) — exploring its multi-faceted link to people and politics in the Arab world, and former colonial power France.
In a darkened room, children watch a replay of the 1998 world cup final that took place years before they were born. There's the intent face of Zinedine Zidane, the star French player of Berber origin. He counted among France's winning, multicultural team, that rallied the nation under the slogan "black, blanc, beur," or "black, white, Arab."
It's one of the many snapshots of soccer's powerful role in shaping history and society in the Arab world, featured in this exhibit titled: Soccer and the Arab World: The Revolution of the Round Ball.
"Football in the Arab world is always linked to the history of the country and also linked to politics,” said show curator Aurelie Clemente-Ruiz. "Because in the stadium, the fans and even the team really reflect what's happen in all society."
The show examines soccer's role as a vehicle for political expression, women's emancipation and soft power. Besides the Nations Cup, it was timed to coincide with another major soccer event — the Women's World Cup in France, which sparked a global debate about gender equality in sports.
This exhibit looks at another game changer— focusing on Jordan's 16-year-old female soccer team.
"It's really interesting to see how these women really want to play football, against their fathers sometimes, their families … and most of the time they can play football,” Clemente-Ruiz said. “It shows something a little bit different that we all have [in our minds] of women in the Arab World."
The exhibit also traces the origins of Algeria's first team, formed by players who quit the French team during their country's war of independence. It examines soccer's role in the Arab spring uprisings and Qatar's winning but controversial bid to host the Middle East's first World Cup in 2022. And the evolution of France's own multicultural team to symbolize the country today.
Teenager Ellie Makosso says she loved the show, especially the parts dealing with youth and female soccer players.
French Algerian soccer fan Saber Gherghout liked learning how the game evolved from his parents' time. Not surprisingly, he's rooting for an Algerian victory on Friday.
He's not the only one.
"Of course we be very glad if Algeria could win … yeah, it would be great," Clemente-Ruiz said.
The Arab World Institute planned to broadcasting the Nations Cup final on a giant outdoor screen. There was also a miniature football field for the amateurs.