We need more people like Mohamed Salah

Mohamed Salah

Gracing the cover of Time is a considerable feat. Landing in the venerable magazine for being one of the world’s 100 most influential people is an accomplishment like few others. And being an Arab and a Muslim achieving this feat is an honor that should make the people who share this faith and ethnicity immensely proud. It is a triumph not just of football star Mohamed Salah but of all people of the region.

Salah made it on the cover of Time largely because of his prowess on the field. His global popularity surged last year when he enjoyed a breakthrough season with Liverpool, scoring 44 goals in the 2017-18 campaign and helping the English Premier League side reach the Champions League final. While goals haven’t flowed as freely for the Egyptian this campaign, the 26-year-old is still this season’s joint-leading scorer in the Premier League as the Reds pursue a first Premier League title since 1990. They have also reached the semi-final of the Champions League. As one of the world’s most sought-after players, Salah has won at least 10 sporting awards, including the Premier League Golden Boot, African Player of the Year and finished third as the world’s best player.

But Salah wasn’t selected solely for sporting reasons. He continues to inspire thousands across the globe through his hard work, his passion for football and religion and his generosity. He once gave money to a thief who stole from his family, to rebuild his life. When Salah’s not helping Liverpool win matches, he is helping residents in his hometown and elsewhere in Egypt to get an education and healthcare. He has inspired hundreds to seek help for drug addiction. And he has donated tens of thousands of Egyptian pounds to help veteran Egyptian footballers who may have fallen on hard times after retiring from the game.

Unfortunately, Salah’s journey has not always been strewn with rose petals. He and many of his fellow footballers have had to deal with the rising tide of racism. Multiple players in England and elsewhere have been subjected to racist abuse this season both from the stands during matches as well as through messages on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Premier League stars Danny Welbeck, Raheem Sterling, Michy Batshuayi, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Moussa Sissoko have all received abuse recently. England’s black players were subjected to repeated chants during their Euro 2020 qualifier in Montenegro last month while Tottenham defender Danny Rose revealed recently he has “had enough” of racism in football and “can’t wait” to quit the game.

If racist chants were commonplace in England’s stadiums in the 1970s and 1980s, what would be the excuse today? This and past seasons have seen repulsive discriminatory abuse inside stadiums in England, other European countries and across the world. We have also witnessed numerous hateful attacks on social media. This behavior needs to be called out for what it is - unadulterated bigotry. It’s a disgrace that blights the game and societies.

Salah has been spared the bulk of such prejudice and intolerance largely due to the respect he has earned for his football skills and being a caring human being. Time saw fit to place him among the world’s luminaries, including US President Donald Trump, US politician Nancy Pelosi, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and former US first lady Michelle Obama.

Time magazine picked several VIPs, splitting them into pioneers, artists, leaders, icons and titans, with Salah named in the latter category. The only footballer on the list, Salah is adored in his native Egypt, and is the greatest player the Arab and Muslim worlds have ever produced. Disciplined and determined, Salah has become an inspiration for youth around the world. He is the quintessential role model who should be emulated. His is a feel-good story in a region where such success is in short supply.