Egyptian soccer player, Mohamed Aboutrika, has turned his talents to the humanitarian game . He told WFP spokesperson, Mohamed Amasha, about how his two roles go hand-in-hand.
Mohamed Aboutrika, the star of Al Ahly club, is not only a shining star in Egypt’s national team and leading football club, but also someone who works unobtrusively to help the poor and needy through his charity work.
I like to participate in charity work and try my best to help the poor and penniless. I'm also seeking to use soccer in humanitarian work
The twenty-eight-year-old, who is married with twins, says that his passion for soccer was triggered when he was a small child.
Aboutrika started honing his skills on the streets of Nahia in Giza governorate at the age of seven, playing in Ramadan tournaments, and later in clubs and youth centres.
When Aboutrika turned 12, his friend, Magdi Abed, (goalkeeper in the Somouha Club), suggested he take the fitness test at Al-Terssana Club. Indeed, Aboutrika did pass all the tests and joined the club.
"I joined the club through personal effort and without favouritism. I spent three years in Al-Terssana Club, playing in the Egyptian League's second division away from the spotlight," recalls Aboutrika.
"Then we were able to join the first division where I played for two years, joining Al Ahly Club in 2003," he said.
As his soccer star status grew in Egypt, he turned his sights to humanitarian issues.
“Every athlete has a humanitarian role in society,” says Aboutrika. “He doesn't live solely for himself, but for others too. I like to participate in charity work and try my best to help the poor and penniless. I'm also seeking to use soccer in humanitarian work."
Based on that idea, Aboutrika joined the Brazilian player Ronaldo, and French player, Zinedine Zidane, in addition to 40 international soccer stars in 2005 for a ‘Match Against Poverty’ in Germany, with the aim of raising funds and increasing awareness about the issue worldwide.
"No to poverty"
“In that humanitarian match, sports people said ‘no to poverty’ in one strong voice, standing up to beat it once and for all," Aboutrika explains.
His fellow player in that match, Zidane, is one of Aboutrika’s soccer role models, along with Egyptian player, Mahmoud Al Khateeb.
Meanwhile, off the pitch he follows the example of his father and the Prophet Mohamed.
He says the Prophet Mohamed influenced him in one of his important soccer choices – his shirt number: "When I joined Al Ahly Club there were two shirt numbers vacant, 21 and 22," he says.
"Before deciding which number to pick I went on a pilgrimage to Mecca. While I was walking between As-Safaa and Al-Marwah mountains, I saw the gate number 22 that the Prophet used to pass through and that's why I decided to choose that number so that it would be a good omen for me in life."
Aboutrika believes that poverty is a double-edged sword, as it can either give rise to feelings of despair, or help the poor person to persevere and be determined.
Aboutrika wishes that all those who suffer from despair could develop determination and face their difficulties with strength.
"Islam deals with the problem of poverty through Zakat (spending a fixed portion of one's wealth for the poor or needy), where the rich feel the plight of the poor," says Aboutrika.
We have to help the poor as much as we can so that they don’t feel alienated in their own society," he says.
Aboutrika’s relationship with WFP began when he starred in a thirty-second humanitarian public service announcement (PSA) for television that focused on some grim hunger statistics: Around 25,000 people from hunger daily and this includes 18,000 children.
"To be successful, we have to take action quickly and help one another,” he says, “because every one second can make a difference if we know that every five seconds a child dies because of hunger…it's a match that we must win.”