Mohammed Aboutrika refused the Vatican’s invitation to the September 1 “friendly” in Rome because of the Zionist state.
The papal lovefest “Inter-Religious Match for Peace” will take place on September 1 at the Olympic Stadium in Rome.
Aboutrika tweeted his refusal with the invitation letter he received from the Vatican. The tweet said, “This is a photo for the match invitation which I turned down because of the Zionist state. Pardon us, we are raising new generation.”
Among the top players, active and retired, who did accept Pope Francis’ invitation are Argentine greats Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi. Maradona told Argentine media that the pope called him personally and asked him “to play for the peace between Israel and Palestine.” Francis also called Messi to request his participation. Players from Russia, Cameroon, Italy, France and Brazil, will also participate.
Aboutrika, who holds a degree in philosophy, played as a second striker and as an attacking midfielder for Tersana, Al Ahly in Egypt, and Baniyas in UAE. He was also one of the most notable stars in the Egyptian national team.
In selecting him as one of its 2013 “people of the year”, James Rainbow of worldsoccer.com wrote “Aboutrika’s roll-call of honours alone would place him among the continent’s greats: five African Champions League titles, seven Egyptian League wins and two African Nations Cups, among others. Yet he is much more than the greatest player that Ahly and Egypt have ever seen. He is also Al Ahly and Egypt’s conscience, a role that has seen him elevated to the status of an untouchable in the Middle East, Africa and beyond.
“The midfielder has become known as much for his grace, intelligence and social conscience off the pitch as on it. One former coach of Tersana tells of how Aboutrika was offered a big contract to stay but refused, instead signing a deal equal to his team-mates.”
One of the top players in Africa, Mohamed Aboutrika was known as the “Smiling Assassin” for his trademark ear-to-ear post-goal-scoring grin.
After his team won the African Champions League in 2006, the press lavished him with praise. But Aboutreika gently rebuked them, saying, “We need to stop this habit of praising [an individual] player. It isn’t Aboutreika, but the whole team who got the Cup. Without the others‚ efforts, I can’t ever make anything. Football is a game played by many players. It isn’t tennis or squash.”
Every athlete has a humanitarian role in society. He doesn’t live solely for himself, but for others too
He has said: “Every athlete has a humanitarian role in society. He doesn’t live solely for himself, but for others too. I like to participate in charity work and try my best to help the poor and penniless. I’m also seeking to use soccer in humanitarian work.”
Quaint as this may sound, according to columnist Dave Zwirin*, Aboutreika backs his words with deeds. He’s made fighting poverty the focus of his life out of uniform, appearing in an Egyptian public service announcement broadcast in which he said: “Hunger takes away a child every five seconds. We have to move immediately and lend each other a hand because every second counts. This is a game we have to win.”
“For a person committed to fighting poverty, the need to raise awareness about Gaza is an act of obvious principle.”
Aboutreika was there in Port Said on February 1, 2012, when 72 Al Ahly fans were killed after a match. “He held one of the fans as he died in his arms,” worldsoccer.com noted. “Deeply traumatised by what he saw, and with the Egyptian league being cancelled, he initially decided to retire. But Ahly’s fans urged him to return and he drove the team to an emotional 2012 Champions League victory in honour of the dead.
“His goals were vital in that success, not least his second-half hat-trick against Stade Malien in an earlier round that dragged Ahly back from the brink. During that season he even refused to play an Egyptian Cup match, siding with Ahly’s ultras fan group, the Ahlawy, who vowed to boycott all domestic football until justice for the dead was secured. The club banned him, but he later returned and lifted the title. When he picked up the trophy he wore a T-shirt with the number 72 on the front.”
The papal match will be hosted by the Pupi Foundation, a charity founded by the Argentine soccer player Javier “Pupi” Zanetti, as well as the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences.
In May, Francis hosted then-Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for a prayer summit at the Vatican.
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* “An Egyptian soccer star shames US sports millionaires,” January 30, 2008