It’s not often that sport becomes the stuff of diplomatic disputes. But two highly controversial World Cup qualifying matches have pushed football into the global headlines this week. Algeria and Egypt find themselves embroiled in a serious spat while the Irish government complained to Paris.
“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. …. I can assure them it is much more serious than that,” the legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly once famously said.’
That has become more than apparent this week as entire nations seethe with anger and resentment after two highly controversial qualifying matches for next year’s World Cup in South Africa. So intense are the feelings that the coverage of the games has leapt from the sports sections to become front page news. And governments in both Europe and North Africa have been quick to jump on the football bandwagon as a welcome respite from economic and political problems at home.
While the controversy over the match between Ireland and France was based on an incident on the pitch, with Thierry Henry’s blatant handball sending Les Bleus through, the spat between Egypt and Algeria has centered on violent incidents off the pitch. The huge outcry in Ireland has prompted the government to call for a replay of the game and the Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen has even taken up the issue with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Continue reading