The sudden power of the Saudi league has changed football’s usual transfer flow, with many top players leaving Europe. Several of these players are Muslim.
The current war in the Middle East makes clear the differences in treatment of Muslim athletes in football.
European clubs, including Bayern Munich, from Germany, announced suspensions or investigations against Muslim athletes who spoke out in favor of the Palestinian cause.
Striker Karim Benzema, already in Saudi Arabia, is accused in France of having links to the Muslim Brotherhood, a political and religious organization that is considered terrorist in countries such as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The statement came from the Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin.
In an interview with the channel CNews last Monday (16), Darmanin said that “Mr. Benzema has a notorious connection, as we all know, with the Muslim Brotherhood.” The minister said this was a problem, as the Brotherhood “gives rise to a climate of jihadism”, but did not give details on the issue.
Not even Celtic, from Scotland, acted differently. “We condemn the display of these messages at Celtic Park,” the club said, after its fans displayed banners reading “Free Palestine!” on October 7th. Support from Celtic fans for the Palestinian cause is common.
In Muslim countries, the tone is of maximum support for Palestine.
The Algerian Football Federation announced the suspension of all its competitions in solidarity with the Palestinian people. The Palestinian flag appeared a lot during the FIFA date.
Saudi Arabia did not attract so many players just because of religion – so much so that non-Muslims also went there. There are other fundamental issues, such as extremely high salaries.
But some players expressed that being in a Muslim country was a decisive factor in the decision.
“My family was very happy because it’s a Muslim country. My mother was the first to tell me to go. It’s important for my faith,” said Sadio Mané, who left Bayern Munich for Al Nassr.
He shouldn’t regret his decision with Bayern’s current stance.
Cases of Islamophobia have always existed in European football.
A strong league alternative for Muslim players to demonstrate their talent certainly has a great advantage. Even more so at a time when clubs are making it clear that they have sides in such a complex conflict.
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Editing: Thalita Pires