Junior National Team: Between Investment and Exploitation


Thu, 23-12-2021 09:32 PM, Aden

Abdullah Al-Shadli (South24) 

Like other sectors, the sports sector in Yemen is suffering from great challenges, in light of the war, which is entering its seventh year. Despite the relationship of conflict and hostility that unites the parties in South and North Yemen, this sector was able to a large extent to distance itself from conflict and strife, and was not divided over Sanaa or Aden.

The country is represented by official teams that are the last thing that brings the people together now, including the under-17 football team, which achieved a historic victory on December 13 by winning the West Asian Junior Championship Cup in its eighth edition, which was held in Saudi Arabia, after defeating the land owners on penalty kicks. 

This team, most of whose players play in Aden's clubs, South Yemen, won what Yemenis considered the championship that their country has not had since its establishment, which made celebrations and rejoicing in the ranks of the two peoples, and hundreds took to the streets in Aden, Sanaa and other cities, and even Yemenis in various countries globally.

But this jubilation and celebration of the junior team did not last long, with the accusations leveled against the Yemeni Minister of Youth and Sports in the internationally recognized government, Naif Al-Bakri, and the head of the Yemeni Football Association, the businessman affiliated with the Yemeni presidency, Ahmed Al-Eisi, of employing and exploiting the victory of the youth and the team; politically.

Political gesture

Private sources close to the junior team told "South24" that the team suffered, before achieving the championship, from great neglect and disregard by the official authorities of the Yemeni government represented by the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Football Association, before the situation changed completely after its victory". 

The sources - who refused to reveal their identity - indicated that the team did not receive actual support during its training in its camp in Aden, and the nutrition in this camp was "poor", and it was not even flown to the Saudi city of Dammam, where the tournament was held, but rather had to travel by land in an arduous journey of hundreds of kilometers that lasted for two days.

The sources said that the team "had to travel by land and then return repeatedly between Seiyun in Hadramaut and Aden after the West Asian Championship was postponed for three times, after which it traveled from Seiyun to Dammam, Saudi Arabia, with a transport vehicle."

A member of the Board of Directors of the Yemeni Football Association, Dr. Hassan Abd Rabbo, denied these allegations, claiming that the team “went from Aden to Dammam directly through a respected Saudi transport company.” He added, "This tournament united Yemenis of their various backgrounds and achieved what politicians did not achieve."

On this note, Taher Kanaan, Deputy Director of the Youth and Sports Department in the STC, told "South24" that "Aden received the junior team and their camp after providing all facilities from us." Accusing the Football Association led by Ahmed Al-Essa of trying to prevent the establishment of the national team camp in Aden, and to prove that it is "unsafe".

Taher claimed that the recent achievement of the junior team "does justice to the clubs in Aden that Al-Eisi's Association has always failed with its decisions," stressing that "most of the junior players are from the clubs of the Southern capital of Aden, which were subjected to injustice and betrayal from the Ministry of Youth and Sports and Al-Eisi's Association, who used and squandered youth funds with political actions that did not relate to sport".

Al-Eisi is one of the major Yemeni businessmen, as he owns holding companies that control large sectors, including oil and maritime transport. He is being pursued by corruption charges, despite his denials. He also sought in May 2018 to form a substitute political faction to the STC in South Yemen, but his faction failed to gain the trust of Southerners.

"Exploiting the youth"

Political analyst Saeed Bakran criticized what he considered "politicization" by the Islamic Islah party, to which the Yemeni Minister of Youth and Sports belongs.

Saeed told "South24" that the Islah party "exploited the junior team for political purposes and marketed certain personalities who serve it". "We have seen a state of disgrace in this misuse," he added.

Saeed considered that Islah, the Muslim Brotherhood branch in Yemen, "is suffering from a major crisis in presence and action, which prompted him to exploit that spontaneous moment with which the public interacted in a humane manner."

Saeed pointed out that the team's lineup, made up of players from North and South, "reflects only two parties, not North and South." He accused Islah and the Brotherhood of "corrupting all the fields they enter."

He continued, "We saw the investment of Minister Naif Al-Bakri and Ahmed Saleh Al-Eisi, in a scene that seemed to be a process of whitewash their bad and unacceptable image of a wide sector of the people, who bear many issues and major mistakes in corruption."

Saeed described that as "the political hijacking of a sporting event," stressing that "turning a sporting event into a political referendum is pathetic, and does not serve Yemeni unity or any path to solving problems."

Journalist and political analyst, Salah Al-Saqladi, agreed with Saeed Bakran that the sporting event was "politicized."

Al-Saqladi told "South24", "this is not the first time that sport has been employed to serve Yemeni politics against the Southern cause," noting that the authorities of the former Yemeni regime in 2010 "exploited the Gulf Cup that was held in Aden to confront the Southern revolution (the Southern Movement [Hirak]) at the time".

He continued, "today the farce is repeated, as Northern powers, despite their deep differences, considered that the mere interaction of the Southerners in the atmosphere of the match between Yemen and Saudi Arabia means that the Southerners have abandoned their political cause and their political project."

Al-Saqladi stressed that mass, cultural and sports activities "soften the atmosphere of politics and relieve tensions, but this is a temporary relief, and a game in 90 minutes does not address major issues that are decades old."

Al-Saqladi considered that the Southerners' encouragement to the team was based on the premise that the team "included Southern players, and this has nothing to do with politics or Yemeni unity."

In response to all these accusations, Shukri Hussein, Director of Information for the Ministry of Youth and Sports, said in a statement to "South24" that most of those he described as "writers and falsifiers" write "without knowledge," adding, "in light of this media space, you cannot respond to everyone and tell them they made a mistake".

Shukri only said, "the work is continuing and everyone is performing their role as they should."

The Yemeni Football Association member, Hussein Abd Rabbo, pointed out that "the relationship with the Ministry of Youth and Sports is very good, and through it, an amount of 500 million riyals was approved for national football teams, according to the decision of the Council of Ministers," noting that "this amount" was not disbursed in full according to what was approved before.

Team investment is rising

On the investment of this team, the STC sports official, Al-Kuraihi Kanaan, indicated that the STC will continue to support the team and the historical clubs in Aden, "from which its players and stars left."

He added, "The performance of the junior team was very distinguished, and this is the first time that players from the Southern regions have had the opportunity to participate after it was the preserve of certain parties."

Al-Kuraihi sent a message to "South24", in which he said, "we hope that the parties that took advantage of the team's victory not mix sports with politics and not exploit youth to pass their plans. Let the peoples in South and North rejoice in this achievement."

On this, the official at the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Shukri Hussein, said, "the ministry and the Football Association aspire to achieve better achievements by taking care of the national team."

Shukri added, "perhaps the first of these steps is that the Minister of Youth and Sports, Naif Al-Bakri, has signed an agreement with the Qatari side to host the junior national team in a preparatory camp, in preparation for the upcoming Asian events, and also through training and qualification at the Aspire Academy."

Shukri notes that the Football Association "honored the team and motivated it more"; He stressed that the sports teams are "working hard to train and advance in the upcoming competitions."

However, the director of the Sports Media Union branch in the coast of Hadramout, Salah Al-Ammari, indicated in his interview with "South24", that "there was a team that was not taken care of and qualified for the finals of the Junior World Cup."

Al-Ammari commented on officials and government figures sharing the team's victory, "congratulations and attending the final matches and taking memorial photos are not practical solutions or steps to take care of the team."

"The national team must be taken care of and sponsored through training camps and matches, and scouting other players in every governorates," he continued

Al-Ammari pointed out that "the team's victory can be invested in increasing interest in the youth sectors and discovering new talents to support teams of all age groups."

Despite the political use of this championship, the national team players had a completely different goal from what the political parties sought.

"Our goal was just the championship, and we never thought of anything else," said junior national team player Saeed Al-Awlaqi to "South24". 

Journalist and editor at South24 Center for News and Studies
Photo: Junior Football Team (Al-Roya Arriyadiah)

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