It’s being reported that the Algerian national football team will donate their entire World Cup prize fund to the embattled people of Gaza.
According to quotes attributed to Algeria’s star striker Islam Slimani, the team will give up all of the estimated £5.25 million they received as valiant losers in the round of 16.
Though Slimani himself plays for Sporting Lisbon and is touted for an even bigger move this summer, the reported donation will be a greater sacrifice for members of the squad based at more modest clubs in Algeria, Tunisia, the lower French leagues and Watford.
Yet speaking at a reception in Algiers where the team returned to a hero’s welcome yesterday, Slimani apparently said: “They need it more than us.”
The announcement was reported by the Jordanian football writer Waleed Abu Nada as well as the Dutch daily newspaper Algemeen Dagblad.
The Algerian team had already won support from around the world for their gutsy and creative performances throughout the tournament against more favoured nations.
They reached the knockout stages for the first time their history when a second-half Slimani goal saw them go through against Russia – and at Russia’s expense.
And they were actually the better side for large parts of their second round match against giants Germany, only losing after extra time 2-1.
If reports of their donation to Gaza are true, it will see Algeria gain a whole new set of fans beyond football around the world. They were also the only African side to make it through past the group stages – and their apparent willingness to give away the prize money is in stark contrast to the reported behaviour of the Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria teams.
Algeria have traditionally been strong supporters of the Palestinian cause in the long-running Middle East dispute with Israel centred on Gaza, and YouTube footage of the team’s open-top homecoming tour through Algiers yesterday showed at least one Palestinian flag draped from the bus by the players.
The reported donation to the people of Gaza comes at a critical time in the conflict, as Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu struggles to control a frenzied reaction to the murder of three Israeli settlers, which the country blames on Hamas.
Israel has begun sending troop reinforcements to its border with Gaza and begun intensifying air strikes, while more than a dozen Palestinian rockets struck southern Israel early on Thursday morning.