Lebanon News

World Cup fever unites rival MPs

Minister Gebran Bassil, left, controls the ball during a friendly soccer match played by lawmakers from Hezbollah and their allies alongside politicians in the Western-backed parliamentary majority at Beirut's Sports City, Tuesday, April 13, 2010. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

BEIRUT: It’s an age-old cliche, but if there is one thing that can melt away differences, no matter how sharp, it’s football. Not even Lebanese politics can escape the phenomenon, with March 8 and March 14 MPs usually opposed to one another instead finding themselves cheering for the same teams as the World Cup prepares to kick off in Brazil Thursday. “I have rooted for Brazil since childhood,” MP Alain Aoun from the March 8-aligned Free Patriotic Movement told The Daily Star Wednesday. “I also like the samba.”

But the Baabda lawmaker said that he also supported France.

“France is my second country and I lived there for a long time,” said Aoun, who holds a French passport. He added that he would make an effort to put aside some time to watch World Cup games played by his teams.

Bucking their usual parliamentary relationship, Aoun finds himself on the same side as March 14’s Future Movement MP Ammar Houri, who praised Brazil’s national team for providing a “civilized performance and dazzling art.”

“Regardless of the result, they provide an enjoyable show,” said Houri, adding that he would watch every match he has time for.

Houri and Aoun will also find themselves waving the same green, yellow and blue flag as March 8’s Amal lawmaker Abdel-Majid Saleh, who said one of the reasons he cheered for Brazil was that many of its citizens were of Lebanese origin.

Saleh said football reminded many people of days when they used to play the game themselves.

As for many Lebanese families, not all Saleh’s relatives are fans of Brazil, with some supporting dangerous rivals Italy and Spain.

However, Saleh was calm about the possibility that his team could be knocked out by another.

“It is important that fans of every team not get too excited and agitated during the game. They should accept the results of the game no matter what they are.”

For him, it’s the decisions of referees that can prove more antagonizing.

The Tyre lawmaker said that watching World Cup games allowed him to take a break from work, “particularly that I am now heading to Beirut four times a week [to attend Parliament sessions].”

For Hezbollah MP Bilal Farhat, the World Cup is one of the few times he will find himself agreeing with a Kataeb MP: For them, Germany are at the top of the pack.

“I like to watch an amazing performance by any team,” Farhat said. “But I usually enjoy the playing of Germany and Brazil.”

“I like football because it is civilized and it is an art. I am a fan of a good performance.”

Kataeb MP Samer Saade’s love of Germany goes a little deeper – he has been supporting them since he was a child.

“Back then, I and all other kids in the neighborhood were supporters of Germany. Germany’s team was in the peak back then,” Saade explained.

The Tripoli MP said he had had no time to watch World cup matches in the 2010 tournament.

“God willing I will have some time this tournament,” he added.

For some, narrowing it down to supporting just one team is impossible. March 14’s Lebanese Forces MP Fadi Karam said he was backing Holland, Italy and Spain and would bet with his son and friends on who would win the tournament this year.

“My choice has to do with football only and not with any other reason,” he said. “I like their performance, it is aggressive rather than deathly dull and they score many goals.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 12, 2014, on page 4.




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