Liverpool FC forward Mohamed Salah on Wednesday (October 18) released a video message denouncing the “massacres” in Gaza and calling on Israel to immediately allow humanitarian aid into the Palestinian territory.
Salah had faced sharp criticism from compatriots in his native Egypt for remaining silent on the issue of Palestinian human rights.
— Mohamed Salah (@MoSalah) October 18, 2023
Around 20 trucks carrying supplies are waiting at the Rafah crossing on the Gaza-Egypt border, with US President Joe Biden having said aid could enter Gaza today (October 20).
How well do you really know your competitors?
Access the most comprehensive Company Profiles on the market, powered by GlobalData. Save hours of research. Gain competitive edge.
Your download email will arrive shortly
Not ready to buy yet? Download a free sample
We are confident about the unique quality of our Company Profiles. However, we want you to make the most beneficial decision for your business, so we offer a free sample that you can download by submitting the below formBy GlobalData
Israel had previously bombarded the crossing with missiles to prevent aid from reaching Gaza while shutting off power, fuel, and water supplies following the assault by political and militant group Hamas on October 7.
The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) has also called for humanitarian corridors into Gaza, where 2.2 million citizens are at risk.
How has the sporting world responded to the Israel-Palestine war?
Salah’s message, shared across all of his social media platforms, goes against most high-profile Western athletes’ statements of support for Israel.
In the US, a firm ally of Israel, sportspeople including American football legend Tom Brady and basketball icon LeBron James have publicly condemned Hamas’ attack, which killed approximately 1,300 people.
— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) October 12, 2023
Brady said there should be “no grey area about condemning Hamas’ terrorist attacks” and that he is “heartbroken for all of the innocent lives lost in Israel and Gaza this week”.
In a less even-handed post on X (formerly Twitter), James said the “devastation in Israel is tragic and unacceptable”, excluding mention of Gaza altogether. James’ former Cleveland Cavaliers teammate Kyrie Irving called on public figures to break the silence around the “crimes being committed against humanity”.
— LeBron James (@KingJames) October 12, 2023
“US athletes supporting Israel is pretty much par for the course given the politics and optics of not doing so,” says Conrad Wiacek, head of analysis at GlobalData Sport. “The same goes for US sporting organizations.”
On October 8, the NBA released a short statement saying: “The NBA and NBPA mourn the horrific loss of life in Israel and condemn these acts of terrorism. We stand with the people of Israel and pray for peace for the entire region.”
MLB released a similar statement on Monday (16 October), saying it is “horrified by the acts of terrorism committed against the people of Israel that took so many lives”.
In Europe, two soccer players have been suspended for posting in support of Palestine.
On Tuesday (17 October), Dutch-Moroccan forward Anwar El-Ghazi was suspended by Mainz 05 for sharing a post that the German club deemed “unacceptable”.
A day later, Ligue 1 side Nice suspended Algerian defender Youcef Atal for sharing a video from a Palestinian preacher on Instagram, which purportedly encouraged violence against Jewish people. Atal, who has since deleted the post, is under investigation by the French Football Federation and Nice prosecutor’s office.
In Wiacek’s words, athletes are increasingly expected to be “definitively pro or anti one side otherwise it is seen as a tacit endorsement of the other.”
How is the conflict affecting Middle Eastern sporting fixtures?
UEFA announced yesterday (October 19) that no UEFA soccer matches will be played in Israel until further notice. This includes the fixtures of Israeli clubs Maccabi Haifa and Maccabi Tel Aviv in the UEFA Europa League and Conference League.
Israel’s European qualifier against Switzerland has already been postponed.
Meanwhile, the Algerian Football Federation has suspended all soccer matches in “solidarity with the Palestinian people”.
Algeria also offered to host Palestine’s national soccer matches, with Australia scheduled to play in a 2026 World Cup qualifier at the Faisal Al-Husseini Stadium in the West Bank on November 21.
Atal’s anti-Israel post aside, Algerian athletes have expressed support for Palestine. Ex-Manchester City player Riyad Mahrez, a former African Cup of Nations (AFCON) winner, posted a picture of him holding a Palestinian flag on X.
We want peace ❤️🤲🏼 pic.twitter.com/shXMwcQMTj
— Riyad Mahrez (@Mahrez22) October 13, 2023
Questions have also been circulating about the impact of the Middle Eastern conflict on sovereign wealth funds.
Persian Gulf states have spent billions on global sports in the last few years, led by Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. Amid rampant human rights abuses, Saudi’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) has faced strong accusations of sportswashing, which Crown Prince Mohamed bin-Salman openly accepted in a recent interview with Fox News.
Luring some of the world’s most revered soccer stars with unprecedented transfer fees and wages has been the primary conduit of the PIF’s plan. Salah was subject to such advances in September when Liverpool rejected a world-record £215m ($271m) bid from PIF-financed Al Ittihad.
The last-minute nature of Al Ittihad’s bid, arriving on the English Premier League’s transfer deadline day, was undoubtedly a factor in Liverpool turning down the offer. Salah would also have been aware of potential backlash from Egyptian fans given the uneasy relationship between Riyadh and Cairo.
While the Israel-Palestine war and wider regional tensions are expected to put many sporting negotiations on hold – and see some deals collapse – analysts say the sovereign wealth fund train will take more to stop.
“Sovereign wealth funds that are already invested aren't going anywhere,” says Wiacek. “The PIF already had its eyes set on the NBA, and it’s unlikely the conflict will impact whether it widens investment into US basketball and other sports.”