An Arab World Cup – but not all Arabs can enjoy it

Ariel Oseran

i24NEWS Middle East correspondent | @ariel_oseran

4 min read
Fans of Saudi Arabia celebrate their team's victory over Argentina in a World Cup group C soccer match in Lusail, Qatar.
AP Photo/Andre Penner, FileFans of Saudi Arabia celebrate their team's victory over Argentina in a World Cup group C soccer match in Lusail, Qatar.

'[Soccer] is an escape. It's the game of the poor. But in Lebanon, [soccer] is now for the rich'

The first World Cup to be held in the Middle East – the first Arab World Cup, as some call it – has already become a showcase for Arab culture and unity. But not for all Arabs.  

It's been just over a week since the tournament kicked off in Qatar and the streets of the capital Doha have been flooded with fans from Muslim countries, quickly turning the tournament into an all-Middle Eastern party.

“All Arabs are united. I walk the streets and people from Saudi Arabia and Tunisia congratulate me on Morocco's performance,” exalted Moroccan fan Kareem al Azzi.

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But not all Arabs are rejoicing. Not in a region where tens of millions of people struggle to simply watch the matches. In war-torn Yemen, for example, most die-hard fans can't afford a television subscription to watch the games. So, they gather outside electronics stores or in cafes in the capital city of Sanaa.

"We wish we were able to watch the games at home, but we can’t afford it," lamented Saleh al Shaddadi, a Yemeni soccer fan.

That's also the case in Lebanon, where the government – which is facing an ongoing economic meltdown – failed to cough up the five million dollars for broadcasting rights.

"Unfortunately, our government is on one side and the people are on the other. [Soccer] is an escape. It's the game of the poor. But in Lebanon, [soccer] is now for the rich," said an unnamed Lebanese soccer fan. 

"This is an escape for the rest of the world to enjoy the World Cup. Sadly, we don't have such things. This is so depressing," added another Lebanese fan.

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In Syria, with gasoline and electricity in short supply, many fans have been forced to congregate in public buildings to enjoy the games. Or sometimes, as in the refugee camps, outdoors despite the cold weather.

As the World Cup continues to showcase the predominantly Arab party, it’s clear that not all Arabs can be party-goers.

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