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Kung-Fu champ’s Rabaa sign raises questions over role of politics in sport

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No clear law exists banning political gestures in most sports, with except of FIFA

Kung Fu player Mohamed Youssef  (Photo from FJP)

Kung Fu player Mohamed Youssef
(Photo from FJP)

On the morning of 16 October 1968, US African-American Athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos left the Olympic Village to compete in the 200m race in the New Mexico Olympics.

Smith claimed the gold medal and Carlos claimed the bronze. When the two US athletes went to the podium for their medals, they received them shoeless but wearing black socks to represent black poverty. Smith wore a black scarf around his neck to represent black pride, Carlos had his tracksuit top unzipped to show solidarity with blue collar workers in the US and wore a necklace of beads which he said “were for those individuals that were lynched, or killed and that no-one said a prayer for.”

The duo raised their hands while wearing black gloves when The Star-Spangled Banner, the American National Anthem was played, in what is widely known as “The Black Power Salute”

45 years later, last Sunday, Egyptian Kung-Fu fighter Mohamed Youssef defeated the Iranian Arman Paziari to claim the gold medal in the Sports Accord Combat Games competition in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Youssef, when at the podium, showed the four-finger-Rabaa sign and wore a t-shirt displaying the same symbol, which symbolises support for the Rabaa-Al Adaweya sit-in in support of former President Mohamed Morsi.

Youssef and the Egyptian Kung-Fu Federation were both referred to interrogation by Minister of Sports Taher Abu Zeid on Tuesday, state-owned news agency MENA reported.

Abu Zeid said what the fighter has done “will not pass easily” stating that the Kung-Fu Federation is also to be blamed.

The minister described the incident as “mixing politics with sports, and a diversion from national cohesion.”

Federation Vice President Mohsen Bahgat said on Monday that Youssef was referred to interrogation by the federation to “learn the reasons behind what he has done”.

Youssef was banned by the federation from participating in the Kung-Fu World Cup in Malaysia and was deported to Egypt, while the rest of the Kung-Fu team flew directly to Kuala Lumpur.

There are no clear international or national laws banning the alleged “mixing sports with politics.”

The International Football Federation (FIFA), however, is one of few that has attempted to be definitive about the controversy, banning the show of any political stance in the football stadium. In 2008, prominent Egyptian footballer Mohamed Abu Trika flashed an undershirt with the text “Sympathize with Gaza” written on it after he scored a goal against Sudan in the that year’s African Cup of Nations amid the January conflict between Gaza’s Hamas and the Israeli Defense Force. Abu Trika had received a warning from CAF, the competition’s governing body, for showing off a “political message during a football game.” CAF follows FIFA rules.

In the “Black Power Salute” incident, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president, American Avery Brundage, considered the symbol to be a domestic political statement, saying that the Olympics are an “apolitical, international forum.” In response to their actions, he ordered Smith and Carlos suspended from the US team and banned from the Olympic Village. When the US Olympic Committee refused, Brundage threatened to ban the entire US track team. This threat led to the two athletes being expelled from the games.

A spokesman for the IOC said it was “a deliberate and violent breach of the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit.”

The Olympic spirit, however, is not a set of laws.

Brundage, who was president of the US Olympic Committee in 1936, had made no objections against Nazi salutes during the Berlin Olympics. He argued that the salute, being a national salute at the time, was acceptable in a competition of nations, while the athletes’ salute was not of a nation and therefore unacceptable.

Smith and Carlos were deeply criticised, to the extent that TIME magazine showed the five-ring Olympic logo with the words, “Angrier, Nastier, Uglier”, instead of “Faster, Higher, Stronger” in denouncement of the incident.

Since there are no laws banning the alleged mixture, the International Kung-Fu Federation has not taken any action against Youssef, who kept his medal, as well as Carlos and Smith.

Youssef, an Alexandrian who fights for the army’s Al-Moa’sasa Al-Askareya club, told Al-Ahram that raising the Rabaa sign “was a message of sympathy and loyalty that I wanted the world to see.”

Despite the controversy stirred by such displays, the only such signs that seem to pass unchallenged are those that are pro-authority.


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