Exhibition Review Foot et monde arabe: la révolution du ballon rond (Football and the Arab World: the round ball revolution)
Men’s football in Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Egypt from a tournament in Beirut,
the Lebanese capital in 1930
The Arab World Institute (in French l'Institut du Monde Arabe, or IMA) is a Paris-based organization founded in 1980 by eighteen Arab countries, with France, to research the Arab world, its cultural and spiritual values and disseminate information across various platforms. Foot et monde arabe: la révolution du ballon rond (in English, Football and the Arab World: the round ball revolution) tells the story of football across the Arabic world and diaspora through eleven themed chapters. The Institute was established to promote representation for the Arab world in France, and to provide a secular location for the promotion of Arab civilization, in a building also known as the Institut du Monde Arabe in the 5th arrondissement. The football exhibition, designed to coincide with the Women’s World Cup in France from 7 June to 7 July 2019, runs from 10 April 2019 to 21 July 2019 and costs 12 Euros to enter, with concessions at 10 Euros and 6 Euros. Using France’s two world Cup wins in 1998 and 2018 as a hook to intrigue guests, the exhibition tells the story of why football has become so important to the Arabic world and how Arab-speaking nations have changed world football.
The Exhibition Experience: Foot et monde arabe: la révolution du ballon rond (Football and the Arab World: the round ball revolution)
The visuals of the exhibition are very strong. It opens with a photograph of the Irish playwright, novelist, poet and theatre director Samuel Beckett, who lived in Paris most of his adult life and was awarded a Nobel prize for literature in 1969. Noted for referring to sport often in his writing Beckett is photographed in Tangier with a small boy who kicks a football, each focused on their own task.
Then we move onto a collection looking at men’s football in Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Egypt from a tournament in Beirut, the Lebanese capital in 1930, an important point in Middle East Football. This illustrates that diversity, and the social history are as important as the scores of great teams and the fame of great players. We have a timeline of these though, from the establishment of le Club Athlétique d’Orlan, in Algeria, limited to Europeans, to the creation of Ahly Sporting Club in Egypt in 1907, and the first qualification of Egypt, as an all-Arab side into the men’s World Cup in 1934. Although the country now known as Palestine did not compete, there was an attempt to affiliate to FIFA in 1929, and a British-led Palestine-Mandate World Cup team included mainly British and Jewish players. The state of Israel was created in 1948. Egypt also held the first African Cup of Nations in 1957. The same year Algeria’s El-Biar beat Rheims 2-0 in Toulouse in the French national Cup. By 1982 Algeria had qualified for the men’s World Cup and Palestine joined FIFA as a member national association. It would take until 2003 for women’s football to be supported in Bahrain, Jordan and Palestine. But, beyond these national stories, what of the key personalities?
Images of Larbi Ben Barek
Larbi Ben Barek a football legend
In 1938 Larbi Ben Barek became a hero in Morroco and there is a large section dedicated to him and his career. In 1976 Pelè is said to have declared ‘If I’m the King of Football, then Ben Barak is the God of Football’, when visiting Morocco. Born in June 1914 in the French protectorate of Morrocco, in Casablanca, Larbi Ben Barek still holds the record for one of the longest careers in the French national team, making seventeen appearances in almost sixteen years. After playing at Olympique de Marseilles, and Le Stade Français, he achieved a considerable transfer fee to play for Atletico de Madrid with whom he won titles in 1950 and 1951. He died in 1992, a forgotten legend after a difficult retirement but features widely in many works of art, focusing on his elegant persona, and technical genius
There are also sections dedicated to pioneers, such as Rachid Mekloufi, Mustapha Zitouni, Abdelaziz Ben Tifour and Mohamed Boumezrag, who formed the first independent Algerian national team ahead of independence in 1962. Nejmeh Sporting Club of Beirut, Lebanon, had as part of its philosophy no political or religious affiliation, open to all, for a long time. There are also sections dedicated to the French victories of Zinedine Zidane in 1998 and Didier Deschamps in 2018, and the period in between. The fifth section is devoted entirely to the development of women’s football in Jordan, in Palestine and in Bahrain. Although there are photographs of women playing football throughout, this balances what is an otherwise very male bias in the exhibition as a whole. Section ten is particularly interesting for the role that Paris San German has played in branding the club to its 60 million plus fans through fashion, clothing, accessories and items not directly related to football.
Fashion from Paris San German
Overall, the exhibition is worth its 12 Euros entrance fee, although the related smaller exhibition on the French Football Federation was noticeably light on women’s football, especially in the context of the first games of the Women’s World Cup in 2019 being hosted at the Parc Des Princes. There was also a lack of diversity in covering disability football and futsal, and in diverse fan groups, tending to focus on Ultras and other more violent groups. I enjoyed the exhibition but felt it would have benefitted from better specialist historian input. As for the Women’s World Cup? Allez les Bleues!
Posts written by Jean or Joanna.