Silence, tears, fistfights, riots—the 2014 World Cup has turned many hearts sour as Germany, Argentina, and other powerhouses eliminate their weaker competition. But threats of a Scud missile attack seem a little over the top, even for this emotional sport.
Extremists within the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) released a letter this week demanding FIFA President Joseph “Sepp” Blatter cancel plans for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, which will soon cease to exist, the terrorists claim. “Qatar will be part of the Caliphate,” they wrote, calling the global sporting event a “corruption and diversion from Islam in the land of the Muslims.” The letter, posted on an ISIS web forum, closed with a casual missile threat against Qatar should Blatter disregard the group’s warning.
This digital bullying is part of a greater turbulence in the Middle East as Sunday’s final match between Argentina and Germany approaches. Religious tension and political strife in the region have turned World Cup viewing into a touchy subject, even though the Arab world has no more national teams in the soccer tournament.
ISIS fighters dream of a soccer-free Qatar, but for now the tiny peninsular nation profits from World Cup broadcasting in the Middle East. The Al-Jazeera news network, owned by Qatar’s royal family, has charged between $110 and $320 for satellite coverage of the tournament’s 64 matches.
But an Israeli broadcast of the World Cup is available for free in Egypt, much to the chagrin of Mohammed Shabana, director of Egypt’s Sports Writers Association: “Israeli media penetration into the Arab community is more devastating than its missiles.” Shabana would rather pay Al-Jazeera than watch TV with Israel’s help, even though some Egyptian officials resent the Qatari network’s history of favoritism toward the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood.
Soccer fans in Lebanon face similar distress. They also have access to free Israeli World Cup coverage, but Shiite militants there hate Israel and don’t like Qatar either, making Al-Jazeera another bad pick for the championship match. While Hezbollah is allied with the Assad government in Syria, Qatar has declared support for the civil war’s Sunni rebels.
Watching Argentina take on Germany this Sunday could be risky business for fans sitting in Iraqi and Syrian cafes, favorite targets for jihadis. But some Palestinians in the West Bank have embraced Israeli broadcasts. Hudaifa Srour, who lives in the village of Naalin, refused to let prejudice spoil his fun: “Our people are eager to escape the political problems, so even those who are not interested in sports, watch the World Cup.”