Friday marked the second anniversary of the revolution that captured the world's attention for so many months. It was on Jan. 25, 2011, when protests erupted in Cairo in response to long-standing grievances toward the authoritative ruling regime. The protests, the revolution, the overthrow of Mubarak, and the subsequent "Arab Spring movement" are topics that have been discussed to exhaustion and yet, very little attention has been given to the role that sports played in this turmoil. In Cairo, it was the young vivacious Egyptian soccer fans who spearheaded this revolution and brought the injustices of the Mubarak government to the world's attention.
I know it sounds hard to believe. How could that boorish, rowdy, inebriated and unrefined being known as "the sports fan" be responsible for launching one of the most significant uprisings of this century? How could that undistinguished commoner sitting in the stands drinking his 20-ounce beer and pounding down those nachos (or in this case hummus) launch a movement that would oust the strongman dictator of Egypt?
There is no one better suited to engage in the chaotic and tumultuous atmosphere of revolutionary movements than the sports fans. In Egypt, the stands of soccer stadiums were the primary place where young, aggressive men could let off steam under a despotic, authoritarian regime. They could shout and chant and cheer their team on to victory without having to worry about harassment by the Mubarak police forces. Before the revolution, they were the only population who routinely tested the police's limit. These were the guys who were as comfortable as anyone can be rioting, disrupting, and in other ways conveying their frustrations.
Let's think about our typical or diehard "sports fan" here in the United States. We all know someone who has a cult like obsession for an American sports team that we consider irrational and bizarre. Not coincidentally that diehard sports fan who we all know and love happens to be the most obstreperous, rambunctious and obnoxious individual in our social circle. Our wives, our girlfriends, our family prohibit us from inviting our brutish friend over during the game because he comes off as a complete jackass when he's screaming at the TV for the "horrible decision" by the referees.
I have someone like that in my life. His name is Matt. The guy cannot watch a Vikings game without suffering at least eight convulsions and three panic attacks (though can you blame him when Christian Ponder is
your QB?). What's more, even when his team is winning he bursts about half his blood vessels because of "biased officiating." This is precisely the type of irrational and erratic behavior that every revolution needs.
If I were launching a revolution, I would want dozens of Matts by my side to act like an adrenaline shot that would be thrust into the hearts of the masses. We all have a Matt in our lives and we all know how riled up our Matt gets when he's watching his beloved sports team. Now just imagine how productive and useful he'd be if he channeled his energy toward something significant such as overthrowing a dictator.
If my buddy Matt is willing to belch out death threats toward the officials on the TV screen for a questionable "false start" penalty, imagine what he would do to a tyrannical regime which seeks to limit his freedoms and restrict his liberties. The ferocious zeal that accompanies all diehard sports fans is virtually unparalleled and it's for this reason that the sports fan should be regarded as an indispensable part of any revolution going forward.
Thus, it should come as no surprise to us that the young sports fans of the Cairo-based soccer team Al-Ahly are credited with catalyzing and empowering the protests in Tahrir Square. Conversely, the real surprise has been the lack of coverage or attention paid to this integral group of sport fans who helped launch the Arab Spring.
For these reasons, I'm going to go out on a limb and make a prediction that the 21st century is going to be the century of the sports fans. I realize it's easy to feel unappreciated when you are a sports fan. Your friends don't allow you in their homes, and various bars and restaurants in your locality have barred you from entry due to your impassioned tirades, but fear not sports fans: No longer will you be taken for granted. Thus I proclaim, sports fans of the world unite! For you all are truly the first defense, protecting our freedoms and liberties against despots wherever they may be.
-- Zach Liberman is a serial entrepreneur whose latest social venture is the College-100, a network of global youth leaders like student presidents and Rhodes scholars on track to become the next generation of political and corporate leader. Ashton Cohen, a College-100 member from UCSD contributed to this article.