She called for the separation of politics from entertainment. The Saudi princess revealed how her country attracts tourists
At a time when Arabs from the Gulf to the ocean were cheering for Saudi Arabia’s footballing miracle by beating Argentina in the FIFA World Cup, Saudis were divided over their country’s national team.
After the surprise victory, the Saudi monarch, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, announced that the day after the match would be an official holiday to celebrate the victory and raise the ceiling of Al-Akhdar’s World Cup ambitions.
In the kingdom and abroad, people cheered and waved the country’s green and white flag in celebration of this great victory that was more than just 3 points.
However, social networks have recorded divisions over the national team, which is not strange for Saudi fans who sometimes look at their country’s national team from the perspective of cheering on local clubs.
The divide seemed incredibly clear after Al-Akhdar crashed out of the World Cup group stage after suffering two defeats against Poland and Mexico.
Critics and fans attribute the “clear division” among Saudi fans to the phenomenon of fanaticism in the Saudi sports community due to “fan-fueled media”.
Former Saudi national team player, Saad Al-Zahrani, said: “Irresponsible media is the root cause of intolerance in Saudi Arabia, and this has also been reflected in the representation of the masses through social media.”
For example, some fans of the Al-Hilal club believe that the national team achieved victory over Argentina because there are 9 key players from their club in the national team, and that their club is primarily responsible for this victory.
Meanwhile, some fans of Al-Nasr, Al-Hilal’s biggest rivals, believe that a number of Al-Hilal players have scored goals, unlike the Al-Nasr players who have saved Saudi Arabia from scoring in three games.
“Understood” scene and “unacceptable” opinions
The matches between the capital’s poles, Riyadh, Al-Nasr and Al-Hilal, have always carried tensions between the fans of the two teams and journalists and media people associated with both sides.
In an interview with Al-Hurr, the former Saudi player assessed the opinion of many fans about the national team after the World Cup in Qatar as “unacceptable”, pointing out the existence of intolerance, the intensity of which, he said, must be controlled.
Al-Zahrani added: “Everyone is intolerant, there is intolerance that causes hatred and enmity, and it is condemnable, but club love and fanaticism is a natural thing.”
For his part, a prominent Saudi critic, Ahmed Al-Shamrani, described the current scene as “unruly”, calling for the need to intervene to undo what he called “a blackness that has reached the point where abuses have spread to an unbearable level scope.”
However, Al-Shamrani told Al-Hurr that the division did not exist until the official departure from the World Cup.
He continued: “The Saudi public is an example of attachment to everything related to the homeland and there is no compromise on that,” adding that the Saudis “were a sign of recognition at the World Cup in Doha with their presence and encouragement.”
Al-Hilal players made up the majority of the 12-man roster of the Saudi national team, called up by France’s Renad for the World Cup, a point that always causes controversy in light of the competition between Al-Nasr and Al-Hilal locally.
Al-Zahrani, who wore the green crest at the 2004 Asian Cup in China, believes that the “clean division” has come about because there are fans who believe that the national team is capable of achieving better results than if the coach had selected equipped players.
He said: “The problem facing the national team was injuries, and there were no substitutes to fill the box with injured players, and that caused a division over the number of (players) who joined, between canceled and suspended, and that is the issue which caused controversy around the national team.”
A Saudi fan, Riyad Al-Alami, told Al-Hurr that “Coach Renado’s choices made the voices of the fanatics stand out, despite the victory over Argentina.”
Al-Alami was surprised that there were names that were injured and did not participate in any previous match, along with other names that were suspended in the past months, while there were reputable players who were not invited to the national team list, according to him.
It looks at the participation of Abd al-Ilah al-Maliki, who returned after a long layoff with a cruciate ligament injury, and the suspended Muhammad Kanoo, who took the penalty in a case that is the subject of great controversy among both Al-Nasr and Al – Hilala.
Al-Zahrani said that some fans feel that the team is a “rehabilitation station” for some players and that is why they are raising their voices demanding that the team “without nepotism” achieves as positive results as possible.
Al-Alamy felt that the win over Argentina was “exceptional” due to the “high morale of the players after meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who removed all pressure on them.” Otherwise, the team would not be able to compete with the tango stars, he said.
And Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met the players before participating in the sixth World Cup for the Greens and asked them to enjoy the three games (in the third group), and to play the games without psychological pressure that could affect their normal performance.
“Commander of the Intolerance Brigade”
Others believe that fanaticism in Saudi Arabia exists only in virtual space, without spreading to the ground of reality.
Fan Abdul Latif Al-Mulhim, who attended his country’s matches at the World Cup in Qatar, said that although “fanaticism has existed since ancient times”, the Saudis in the stands are “one force”.
He added to the website “Al-Hurra” that “everyone wore green, there is not a single fan who wore his club’s shirt … For me, I think this is the biggest participation of Saudi Arabia in the World Cup because of the victory over Argentina.”
The Saudis also recalled on social media Al-Akhdar’s historic participation in the World Cup in the United States in 1994, where the Saudi stars managed to qualify for the World Cup finals with their first participation.
The Saudis pointed out that these outstanding results achieved at the World Cup in America are the result of a list of players from a number of local clubs, without one club controlling the squad.
Spokesmen for Al-Hurra accused the local media and sports programs of spreading fanaticism and inflaming the masses through “outrageous” theses.
Al-Shamrani considered that the sports media is “the leader of the fanaticism brigade”, because it “forms a duet with the favorite runway that took us to a painful reality.”
And he added, “Media professionals insult each other, and others underestimate the principles and ethics of sport… Our sport is developing, and our media is crying and laughing.”
On the other hand, Al-Zahrani, who played for Al-Nasr and Al-Faisaly clubs, said: “Much of the media and daily sports programs belittle clubs and glorify other clubs.”
He pointed out that this proposal constitutes a “sporting path between reinforcement and rejection, which increases the frequency and intensity of intolerance due to an unbalanced proposal that inflames the masses with ideas that should not exist.”
“There is no deviation from the text”
However, others believe that the state of attraction in the Saudi sports community is “very normal” in a game that is always characterized by excitement and clubbing.
A prominent sports critic, Muhammad Al-Sheikh, said: “Saudi fans, with their different affiliations, have a very natural relationship with the national team… It is not possible for a match with this much excitement to unite opinions and attitudes about it.”
In his interview with Al-Hurr, Al-Sheikh said, “The general scene after the victory over Argentina was patriotic, with the exception of a few voices that could not be counted,” a sentiment Al-Shamrani concurred with.
And he added: “We do not deny the existence of fanatical voices, but they do not represent the majority of the Saudi sports community… What is happening to us is much less than what is happening in Spain, Italy and England, for example.”
Al-Sheikh admitted that “excretions of local competitions reflect on the national team, but the positive results of the national team unite the masses”, referring to the presence of tens of thousands of Saudis in Qatar, where they cheered for the national team and waved green flags.
He explained: “Not every practice where the intensity of critical abuse is high is considered bigotry. . . . I don’t see that there is any deviation from the text.”