Uniting a country through football, the Syrian way

Muhannad Al-Fakeer, Technical Director at the Syrian Arab Federation for Football talks in length about the Syrian war, football and more.

Muhannad Al-Fakeer, Technical Director at the Syrian Arab Federation for Football, says the road ahead is bumpy, but the fact that the country has a large talent pool makes him optimistic.   -  Special Arrangement

Bullets, bombs, blood — are perhaps the three words that have become an integral part of life in Syria. In a country that’s ravaged by a civil war since 2011, people have taken it all in their stride. They clearly don’t have another choice.

“What can we do? Go to our homes, lock our doors and hide?,” Muhannad Al-Fakeer, Technical Director at the Syrian Arab Federation for Football, asks?

Also an AFC Technical Committee member, Al-Fakeer had to leave his home in the outskirts of Damascus for five years during the civil war. “Those were nightmares. You did not know what was awaiting. By now, I have seen everything,” he says.

Even as the country plunged into ‘darkness’, the football league never stopped in the last eight years. “We play football every day in our country. A few years ago our football has seen a lot of turmoil during matches and even during training sessions," he says.

Syria, he says, has lost ‘many players, many coaches, many people in football’ because of the war. “We lost many junior players from Al-Jaish and Al-Wahda because of bombs. But now for the last two years, everything is okay. Damascus is completely safe. The region around Damascus, Aleppo, Hamas and Homs are all safe.

“Just Idlib and Rakka are out of control. We hope we will regain control of them again,” Al-Fakeer hopes.

While Al-Fakeer talks about the football structure back home, he also makes it a point to clarify that the biggest concern is funding. “We have many problems, the first problem is that our association is not rich. For eight years we received no money from FIFA or AFC. Of course, there were times when they paid for our travel and for flights and for stay during matches. Right now, AFC is paying for our foreign coach (Bernd Stange, who is from Germany). And they are also paying for our equipment, he says.

“The other problem right now hurting Syrian football is the infrastructure; the war destroyed all the fields in Syria. We need to rebuild our sports centres and our stadiums,” he adds.

The fear hasn’t tamed the Syrians. The women’s football team has been strengthened and the excitement about the game is far higher now.

Perhaps, it’s their way of showing unity. “If you search for pictures on the internet, you will see that the stadiums back home are now full with fans. Football is what is bringing people together again,” Al-Fakeer says.

The Syrian team will be playing a friendly against India, leading up to the AFC Asian Cup in UAE next year. It is presently ranked 74 in the world — higher than the 114 rank it held when the unrest mushroomed in 2011.

Despite the fear factor, Al-Fakeer is excited about the future. He knows that the road ahead is bumpy, but the fact that the country has a large talent pool makes him optimistic. “We have a lot of talent. You can see that even in the boys and the girls playing football in the streets. We all love football and even during the war, the game never stopped,” he says, and then adds with a smile: “Never for a day…”