Thursday 26 March 2020, 18:45

North African football united against coronavirus

  • Egypt's Zamalek and Al Ahly unite against COVID-19

  • Footballers welcome Rafik Saifi's initiative in Algeria

  • Tunisian and Moroccan football federations join battle against virus

The coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe at present is an invisible enemy that has quickly come to dominate our conversation. Life has suddenly changed, as we long for the little things that we used to do routinely before the crisis and for life to return to normal. Governments around the world have taken measures such as closing schools and obliging businesses to send their staff home or lay them off to cut costs. In such difficult times, the livelihoods of poor families in countries that are already experiencing economic hardship, such as Egypt, are greatly impacted.

Egyptian football: Yesterday's enemies, today's friends

Regardless of which of Cairo’s big two you supported, your favourite club and their arch-rivals have now joined forces. The stars of Egypt’s two largest clubs, Zamalek and Al Ahly, have decided that this is the time for action and giving. Al Ahly defender Saad Sameer launched the #good_challenge initiative under which he announced that he would sponsor 20 families until the crisis has ended, challenging fellow players from both clubs to follow suit.

The initiative soon snowballed, with many football stars signing up. Tarek Hamed, Ahmed Fathy, Mohamed El-Shenawy, Mahmoud Kahraba, Amr El Solia, Wael Gomaa, Sherif Ekramy, Shikabala, Mido, Ahmed Hegazi, Trezeguet, and Ahmed Hassan (Kouka) soon joined, and others are coming on board daily. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of households are benefitting from this challenge, which shows the beautiful side of the Egyptian people at a time of hardship.

Algeria welcome Rafik Saifi's initiative

In Algeria, former international Rafik Saifi, who participated in the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, launched a campaign in which he urged all current and former internationals to help finance Algerian hospitals. Many players, notably Yacine Brahimi, Carl Medjani, Ramy Bensebaini, and almost the entire squad who won last year’s CAF Africa Cup of Nations title, responded favourably to the campaign.

As well as this joint initiative, some players, such as Abdelmoumene Djabou, Salim Boukhenchouche, Andria, and several other footballers in local leagues, have individually decided to sponsor some impoverished families during the crisis.

Algerian Football Federation (FAF) President Kheiredine Zetchi announced that the FAF was placing all its financial and human resources at the disposal of the Algerian authorities in the fight against COVID-19. He said the football body would not hesitate to play an active part in helping the Algerian people overcome the plight. The federation’s technical training centre in Sidi Moussa will also be placed at the disposal of the government when works there are completed. The facilities will be used as a quarantine centre if necessary, with the exception of the Hôtel Les Fennecs, which will not be finished until next year.

Tunisian football family mobilise to fight the virus

Tunisian football is also rallying behind the state at this difficult time. Many national team players, such as Anice Badri, Fakhereedine Ben Youssef, Yousself Msakni, Taha Khenissi, Wahbi Khazri, Saif-Eddine Khaoui, Wajdi Kechrida, Bassem Srarfi, Ferjani Sasi, Ellyes Skhiri and all the Eagles of Carthage players who participated in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, made donations to the coronavirus solidarity fun.

For its part, the Tunisian Football Federation (FTF) placed the national team centre at the disposal of the Ministry of Health, which prepared the facility for a possible emergency. The FTF further allocated 100,000 dinars to provide the Borj Cedria and Ain Draham centres with medical supplies, also putting them at the disposal of the ministry. Moreover, it will cover the cost of the medical and paramedical teams that will temporarily supervise the centres, and has announced that its teams are ready to help the government in its response to the crisis.

The FTF also provided all quarantine centres with internet access and gave every Tunisian returning from abroad a mobile SIM card with data. In a separate move, it provided 700 Tunisian families with staple foods, cleaning materials and sanitary liquids, and placed five buses at the disposal of the Transport Ministry.

Moroccan FA and professional clubs make financial contributions

In cooperation with its professional and regional leagues, and women’s football bodies, the Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF) announced that it would donate ten million dirhams to the anti-coronavirus fund.

Some professional league teams in the country also announced donations to the fund, and campaigns by current and former players, as well as coaches, continue to raise awareness among people about the seriousness of the virus and the need to adhere to instructions aimed at containing it.

The sun will definitely rise

No one know how long the crisis will last, but it will end one day and stadiums will reopen their doors. And when we see these players take to the pitch again, we will realise the importance of giving in this life, and that it can only continue through our unity and solidarity. The Good Challenge initiative in Egypt, the Saifi challenge in Algeria, and similar actions taken by the Tunisian and Moroccan football authorities prove that football is indeed "the beautiful game".