Legendary Argentinian footballer Diego Maradona, who passed away aged 60 on Wednesday, was a champion like no other. Unlike other sports players, Maradona took a keen interest in politics and was perhaps one of the few world superstars who campaigned for the rights of Palestinians through most of his life.
As tributes poured in from around the world at his demise, Muslim fans of the footballing genius could not help but share the numerous times Maradona had spoken up for the people of Palestine while he was alive. Others shared Maradon’s support for Communist Cuba as evidence of the star’s anti-American worldview.
Perhaps it is only fitting that a character so complex would also command attention in Pakistan, such was his popular appeal. On social media, several Pakistani fans of Maradona shared stories from a 2014 interview of the Argentinian in which Maradona talks about cricket and also about Pakistan.
“In my heart, I am Palestinian.”
RIP Diego Armando Maradona.
In our hearts we were all Argentinian, imitating your dribbling and goals in the neighbourhoods of Palestine. I’m sure like other kids all over the world. pic.twitter.com/6NU3PNeL2r
— Salem Barahmeh (@Barahmeh) November 25, 2020
‘A country, a right’
Maradona has been un-apologetically pro-Palestine. In 2014, he had vociferously condemned the deadly massacre of Palestinians by Israel in Operation Protective Edge. In a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2018, he reiterated his support for Palestine. In his conversation with President, he said he hoped to see Palestine as an internationally-recognized sovereign country one day.
“President Abbas has a country and has a right,” he said after embracing Abbas. “This man wants peace in Palestine.” The encounter was uploaded on Maradona’s Instagram account and gained worldwide traction.
Then in 2012, he was in the headlines again. “I am the number one fan of the Palestinian people. I respect them and sympathize with them. I support Palestine without any fear,” he added, referring to an expected backlash from Israel supporters.
‘Do not know much about Pakistan’
Maradona was equally popular in Pakistan as well. Pakistan’s football community has also paid him a heartfelt tribute. Maradon has passed away on Wednesday due to cardiac arrest. Pakistani footballers termed Maradona a virtual coach to every footballer, saying that everyone could learn a lot about modern-day football by watching his videos online.
Saddam Hussain, the captain of Pakistan’s football team, said that Maradona was the all-time greatest and everyone’s favorite who inspired a score of people towards soccer. “It is indeed a very sad news for everyone who loved football,” said Hussain while talking to Geo News.
“Even today, many would watch his videos to learn various skills of the game. The world has lost a football genius today,” said the captain of the Pakistan football team. Others also shared excerpts from an earlier interview in which Maradona goes on to berate the football body of Argentina by comparing them to Pakistan in terms of footballing achievements.
"In my heart I am Palestinian.. I am a defender of the Palestinian people, I respect them and sympathise with them, I support Palestine without fear".
— Irish Unity 🇮🇪🇵🇸 (@IrishUnity) November 25, 2020
“The AFA has played dirty tricks on me. I should have also been the Argentina coach at the World Cup (at Brazil 2014). But the current leaders of the association understand as much about football as Pakistan does,” Maradona told Sport Bild.
“They don’t have a clue at all. To clarify: There are certainly many good things in Pakistan, but I have never seen them play a World Cup final. I say: The current association leaders in Argentina are the same as Pakistan.”
The greatest footballer of his generation and an advocate of liberation struggles, from Latin America to Palestine.
Rest in peace, Diego Maradona. pic.twitter.com/CM0ubfmJcj
— Zarah Sultana MP (@zarahsultana) November 25, 2020
GVS News Desk