I haven’t been watching ‘the beautiful game’ this season, for a good reason

Uruguay fans react during the live broadcasting of the FIFA World Cup Round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay, in Montevideo, on June 28, 2014. PHOTO | MIGUEL ROJO

What you need to know:

  • I would rather watch a game of tennis; better still, I’d rather watch a movie
  • It seems that football’s appeal has even extended to terrorist groups

I must be one of the few people on this planet who do not enjoy football. I do not support any Premier League team, and I am not among those who are staying up till the wee hours of the morning watching World Cup matches.

It’s not that I hate the game; it’s just that I don’t understand the fanatical fascination people have with it. In my opinion, football, like religion, is the “opium of the masses”. It numbs people into a false sense of security and camaraderie.

Manchester United fans —regardless of tribe, nationality or race — around the world become one community when their team is playing, and go into collective mourning when it loses.

While I support the unifying influence of the game, I also question whether it has not been invented to prevent people from confronting real issues.

Premier League football, in particular, is the biggest money-making scam the world has ever witnessed.

Millions of dollars are spent in buying players, getting sponsors, advertising and the like so that billions around the world can watch Europeans (with a sprinkling of Africans and Brazilians here and there) chase a ball across a field. None of this money trickles down to the spectators.

Some Kenyans have even committed suicide when their team loses.

What does a multi-millionaire like Wayne Rooney know of the pain of a poor Kenyan who kills himself in his name?

Football has also caused a crisis in families. Instead of staying home with their families on weekends, fathers are known to spend the time in sports bars watching football. How many football widows and orphans has the game created?

Maybe I just don’t get it. A Google search shows that men have been playing versions of football for centuries, but that it only became a formal game with set rules around the 19th century.

Some say it was invented in Scotland some 500 years ago, others say the Chinese invented it a couple of thousand years ago.

What is clear is that men and boys have been chasing balls across fields in almost every culture and society, and that at some stage, the game known as football became the most popular in the world.

Obviously, the world’s most popular game has not resonated with me. I would rather watch a game of tennis; better still, I’d rather watch a movie.


However, it seems that football’s appeal has even extended to terrorist groups. It appears that even Al-Shabaab — which has banned football along with movies and music in the territories that it controls — could not resist the “beautiful game” and has now invented a “halal” version of it, according to a recent report by Al Jazeera.

Many Al-Shabaab fighters are Arsenal fans, according to the report, and secretly yearn to play and watch the game. So they have “halalised” it with their own rules.

In an Al-Shabaab football match, none of the players are allowed to wear shorts; they must wear tracksuits. Women are not allowed to watch the game, which must end 15 minutes before prayer time. Team players are expected to abandon the game when there is call to pray.

Al-Shabaab referees don’t give out red cards — players who violate the rules can expect a public flogging. When a team scores a goal, players are not allowed to break into a jig or hug fellow team members. They must chant “Allahu Akbar”.

I am rather pleased with this development. One of the most persistent complaints against Al-Shabaab that I have heard from Somalis is that it doesn’t allow them to play football. (Somalis are ardent football fans.) Al-Shabaab miscalculated when it banned the game in Somalia.

Better a halal version than no football at all, I guess.

Besides, now that we know that the majority of Al-Shabaab fighters support Arsenal, I see a window of opportunity here. Imagine Al-Shabaab and “infidel” Arsenal fans uniting under one team.

Think of the possibilities. Football may be the key to building bridges and tolerance between Al- Shabaab and their so-called enemies. Maybe football has its virtues, after all.