MENA Sports Wrap: Scrutiny for Liverpool's Mo Salah, praise for Arsenal's Bukayo Saka
With the festive season in full swing, Mo Salah joined his Liverpool FC teammates to spread cheer at a children’s hospital.
The Egyptian forward is famously charitable, but he has been unusually quiet on Israel’s war on Gaza, where hospitals have been targets of raids, bombings, and executions, to the disappointment of many fans.
No such scrutiny for Arsenal’s 'star boy' Bukayo Saka, who has earned plenty of praise for helping survivors of a disastrous earthquake that hit Morocco earlier this year.
Elsewhere in the footballing world, managers of teams including Egypt and Morocco are putting together their squads for the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) – which takes place next month, slap bang in the middle of the European league season.
Mo Salah's Christmas gesture draws more Gaza reminders
Alongside some of his Liverpool teammates, Salah visited the Alder Hey Children's Hospital in the city on Tuesday to distribute Christmas presents to young patients.
Salah has expressed pride in his Muslim faith and donated significant amounts of money to charity.
However, the football star has mostly kept quiet about Israel's onslaught on Gaza – for which the death toll surpassed 20,000 on Wednesday – save for appearing in a video in which he appeared uneasy while speaking to the camera and called for an end to the bombing of the Palestinian territory.
With a following of over 63 million on Instagram alone, fans expected him to use his platform to raise awareness of the Palestinian cause.
His recent posts on Instagram have been flooded with comments asking why he hasn't shown solidarity with Palestinians.
"You are not responsible for what is happening in Gaza, but you are responsible for your reaction, you have not shown any sympathy for them even with words on your account!!!!!!" wrote one X user.
"Pray for Gaza, Mo Salah," said another.
Others, meanwhile, defended Salah.
"If pictures of Mohamed Salah's visit to Alder Hey Hospital to support sick children bother you, and you think it is not right for him to spread joy to children and distribute Christmas gifts to them, then believe me, you are devoid of and humanity," said one X user.
Despite remaining largely quiet on the matter, Salah has donated towards humanitarian aid for Gaza.
In October, Egypt's official State Information Service reported that the Liverpool star had donated an undisclosed amount to the Egyptian Red Crescent for aid efforts in Gaza.
Egyptian Red Crescent head Rami al-Nazer confirmed the contribution, who said the star had requested the amount be kept private.
It takes a village: Saka funds homes for Morocco earthquake survivors
Arsenal and England wunderkind Bukayo Saka is offering a helping hand to some of the victims of Morocco’s devastating earthquake, which hit in September and killed close to 3,000 people.
Saka has partnered with the children’s medical charity BigShoe to pay for the construction of a container village that will provide a roof over the heads of 255 people, including 89 children, in a village in the Taroudant area of southwestern Morocco.
The England winger has donated 50 containers, each equipped with a sleeping area, a kitchenette, and a bathroom with a washbasin, as well as power sockets and protective grills fitted to the windows in case of future earthquakes.
The 6.9-magnitude quake, which struck the central region of Marrakech-Safi on 8 September, killed 2,960 people and left thousands more injured and homeless. It was the strongest earthquake ever recorded in the country, and its deadliest since the 1960 Agadir disaster.
Several survivors, particularly those whose homes were destroyed in villages nestled in the remote province of Al-Haouz, are still living in makeshift camps amid incoming harsh winter conditions where temperatures are feared to reach below zero.
"I was shocked when I heard about the terrible earthquake in Morocco, but in the second moment, I knew that I really want to help, and we started to look at what we can do to help the displaced families," Saka was quoted as saying by the London Evening Standard.
"We found a way to help relatively quickly, and we are able to put a roof over the head and give some comfort and hope to those who have lost everything thought no fault of their own."
Saka, considered among England’s brightest footballing stars, has also teamed up with the charity to fund lifesaving operations for children in his parent’s home country of Nigeria.
He also helped provide emergency shelters in Turkey, for those impacted by the catastrophic earthquake that hit the country in February.
Soon after the earthquake, Moroccan national team players and staff donated blood to help the victims.
Other sports stars including Cristiano Ronaldo offered condolences following the disaster, and football leagues held a moment's silence for the victims of the quake.
AFCON 2023: African national squad selections could prove a headache for European teams
With the latest edition of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) fast approaching, managers of the participating national teams are trying to put together the best squads possible.
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) on Wednesday released their long-list provisional squads for the teams taking part in the tournament, which will take place from 13 January until 11 February.
These provisional squad selections feature 55 players, which managers will have to whittle down to 27 before the deadline of 3 January set by CAF.
There have been questions over whether Manchester United goalkeeper Andre Onana will take part in the tournament and miss a spell in the Premier League.
There will be strong North African representation at AFCON, with Algeria, Egypt, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia will all feature in the 24-team tournament taking place in Cote d’Ivoire.
The tournament was meant to take place in June and July of 2023 but was postponed because of concerns over the extremely wet weather that hits West Africa at that time of year.
The postponement means the tournament will now take place in the middle of the European league seasons, to the irritation of some fans and managers who rely considerably on African football’s heavyweights for their teams’ success.
To avoid resistance that could see African players prevented from playing for their home countries, CAF had asked European clubs to allow their African players to join their national teams at the end of December for pre-tournament training, The New Arab’s Arabic-language sister site Al-Araby Al-Jadeed reported.
CAF has asked FIFA to put pressure on European clubs to let their African players head to the tournament, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed said.
A source from the Moroccan Football Federation told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that Morocco coach Walid Regragui had received reassurances from European clubs that players would be able to join the training camp at the end of the month.
Morocco will fancy their chances at AFCON 2023 as the highest-ranked team entering the tournament, according to the latest FIFA rankings released Thursday.
The Atlas Lions are ranked 13th in the world, according to the rankings, which are updated monthly; Senegal, Tunisia, Algeria, and Egypt are the next African teams on the list.
Algeria’s provisional squad for the tournament includes Youcef Atal, who plays for French club Nice, and has been on trial for posts criticising Israel for its war on Gaza. A French prosecutor has reportedly asked the judge in the case to come down hard on Atal with a 10-month suspended sentence.