Mohamed Salah is on top of the soccer world right now. The Liverpool starlet hailing from Nagrig, a small Egyptian village, scored the winning goal of the UEFA Champions League--the premier club soccer competition--in just the second minute of the match. Doing so, he by and large paved the path to victory for his side against rivals Tottenham Hotspurs. The 26-year-old Salah’s premier form throughout the Champions League campaign was capped off by his stellar performance in the final, warranting adulation from the nearly 200 million-person television audience. But behind his famed scraggly-haired, smiling disposition and unparalleled soccer talent is a history of bigotry and anti-Semitic behavior slipping under the radar as celebrations unfold.
Salah’s public record of discriminatory action began in a 2014 two-legged match against Maccabi Tel Aviv. Salah, at the time a part of FC Basel, refused to shake the hands of the Israeli players prior to the match. The first meeting between the Israeli side and Basel saw Salah attempt to play off not shaking hands by feigning tying his shoe; however when the snub happened once more, this time in Tel Aviv, fans recognized the hostile act and proceeded to boo Salah harshly. Initially, Salah had plans to boycott the match altogether, though was later persuaded by team officials to put politics and bigotry aside for the sake of the game.
Salah’s efforts at undermining the validity of Israel’s existence were furthered when he bashed the Jewish state in a pre-game interview ahead of a match in Netanya:
“In my thoughts I am going to play in Palestine and not Israel, and I am also going to score and win there. The Zionist flag won’t be shown in the Champions League.”
If his ‘tying my shoes’ facade in 2014 wasn’t unsportsmanlike enough, his firebrand anti-Zionist comments and refusal to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist display Salah’s grotesque views on the conflict--a stark difference from his golden boy public perception in the wake of the Champions League final.
In a final triumphant act at the expense of Israeli soccer fans and all standards of fair play, Salah used his powerful position and newfound stardom at Liverpool to issue an ultimatum to Liverpool management that he would refuse to play alongside Moanes Dabour, a 27-year-old Israeli striker now at Spanish club Sevilla whom Liverpool took interest in. Dabour was never signed by the Reds, with widespread speculation that Salah’s threats caused management to avoid moving forward with Dabour.
As Salah is feted for his impressive feat in the UEFA Champions League game, his politicization and aggressive anti-Zionist stance ought to have no place in the international sports arena. Both the UEFA and FIFA--the largest soccer governing bodies globally--espouse publicly their commitment to rejecting discrimination, racism, and other bigoted behavior from the sport altogether, especially after a long and checkered past of such actions. Salah’s clout and physical adroitness shouldn’t exempt him from accountability for his clearly bigoted and discriminatory actions.