Tweeting Football in the Arab World

During the past weekend the Arab Club Championship was opened in Egypt. In the next two weeks, teams from the Middle East, North Africa and the region will compete in the form of three groups, four teams in each, in two stadiums (Cairo and Alexandria), semi-finals and finals (August 5th). Al-Ahly and Zamalek (Egypt), Al-Ahed (Lebanon), Al –Faisaly (Jordan) and Al-Merreikh (Sudan), will all be there.

But before it is a fascinating sporting event with symbolic and characteristic meanings for the Middle East, the Arab Club Championship is first of all a historic event, in the era of the Internet and social networks.

The official logo of the competition, by UAEFA

The official logo of the competition, by UAEFA

The First Full Football Tournament to be Broadcast Live on Twitter
The Arab Club Championship is the first football tournament to be broadcast live on Twitter. Though, it is not the first attempt to broadcast live a sport event on the tweeting social network, which until recently seemed that it would cease its activities. Few NFL games, Wimbledon 2016 (where the broadcasts were delayed by medium and high quality) were the first tastes of how Twitter will transmit live broadcasts. The 12 Pac and Campus Insider, the best college athletics competitions in the United States, were the following stations that helped Twitter to fix the weak parts of the broadcast, and in April 2017, the network had its first full live football game boradcast in the app itself – The CONCACAF (North and Central America) Champions League, between Pachuca and the Mexican Tigers. This was the official rehearsal for the Arab Club Championship, as it started last Saturday in Egypt. Each one of its games will be broadcasted live, with an excellent graphic package, with commentating by On Sports.

The Arab Club Championship is a serious mark for sports broadcasting - the future is already here.

Potential Ratings of Millions of People
Many questions pop up when considering the concept of broadcasting a tournament in the internet. So who is actually going to watch this tournament? Is it worthwhile to Twitter? The answer is yes. Many people.

In the Middle East, as of 2017, there are about 250,327,574 people, who make up about 3.3% of the world's population. As of March 2017, close to 142 million people in the region were measured using the Internet regularly and daily, through their mobile phone. This means that over half of the population of the Middle East consumes information via the cell phone on a daily basis. According to Internet World Stats, the entire region (including Iran, Turkey and Israel) has seen a large jump in the number of users since 2000 –of 4,220% - secondary only to Africa, which has grown by more than 7,000%.

Any reasonable person knows that these high numbers should be taken with limited liability, since Twitter has a little less than six million users in the Middle East. But Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, and Sela Sport, the Saudi company specializing in sports business and digital sports products that launched the tournament's streaming, did not build on expectations from the Middle East alone. In an ingenious step, they opened the possibility of viewing th games even to those who do not have a Twitter account, but simply looking for a live game on the Internet. Here, they took into account that, beyond 317 million Twitter users, there would be hits from Asia and Australia, whether to scout for rivalries to Asian competitions or gambling needs. Asia and Oceania are counted for over half the world's Internet population - with nearly 2 billion people. That's a lot of people. Lots of potential viewers. Given the restrictions on the number of fans in stadiums in Egypt, the twitter viewers, and the tweets that will be published about the championship, are actually what will keep the tournament alive.

Those who will enjoy the interface that Twitter has established which can be watched and tweet at the same time, are usually excluded from the football fields in the Middle East - the women. Almost 40% of Twitter users in the Arab region are women, who can now enjoy watching, free, by their phone, an international football tournament.

As far as Twitter is concerned, this is an innovative and crazy tool experiment that could boost the company's value and sharpen its relevance in the social networking world. "Football fans in the world and in the Middle East are turning to Twitter not only to follow their favorite teams, but also to discuss and talk about what is going on in the world of football in real time," says Kinda Ibrahim, director of Twitter's media cooperation in the Middle East and Africa. Arab clubs is to create a unique viewing and discussion experience for fans from all over the world, on the same platform. "

If the two-week tournament is broadcast, Twitter will be able to submit proposals for additional sports events, thereby strengthening its position as the front-end platform in the global change in sports broadcasts.

Zamalek is one of the two Egyptian giants to take part in the tournament (Kingfut©)

Zamalek is one of the two Egyptian giants to take part in the tournament (Kingfut©)

A Short History and Lots of Politics
With all the noise surrounding the live streaming revolution of Twitter, the tournament will also present some football. The Arab Club Championship is a new version of the Arab Champions Cup tournament, an annual tournament that was first played in 1982. The tournament was founded in order to strengthen and revive the Arab national identity that was at the height of its decline in those days and to demonstrate the power of the 'Arab nation' through football. It has been repealed several times over the years as a result of wars (Lebanon in the 1980s, the Gulf War in the 1990s), various political tensions (the Arab Spring), or simply a lack of coordination between the clubs and the Arab Football Association regarding dates and locations. The last tournament was played in 2013, the one before it was held in 2009.

If at the first years  of the tournament it attracted the champions of the various countries and the Lions of the Middle East and North Africa on a regular basis, it is evident that with the multiplicity of competition in which the major teams compete, there was a change in the identity of the participating clubs. The two Egyptian giants are here as mentioned , Saudi Al-Hilal and Al-Nasser of Riyadh are here too, but also teamss such as Hussein Dey, the Algerian Cup holder. Fatah Union Sport Rabat, the previous champion of Morocco, who won the championship in 2016 for the first time in its history, is arrived too, and Al-Wahda of the UAE, who entered the tournament only after Al-Ain, Amoory’s team, withdrew the tournament in order to gain some rest and preparation time for the decisive stages in the Asian Champions League that will return at the end of August.

The tournament began in February, divided into two tracks - Asia and Africa. Teams from Bahrain, Mauritania, Oman, Comoros, and Palestine have also tried their luck in qualifying for the finals.

The teams that are absent from the tournament are Qatar. The reason for this is not the severe crisis that takes place in the Gulf these days, but rather a precursor to it. When the tournament was announced at the end of 2016, Qatar was chosen as a host. Then, the Egyptian authorities were engaged in an all-out war against the Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar is known as one of the main sponsors of the Muslim movement, and the Egyptian Association has made it difficult for Al-Ahly, whose fan base is affiliated with the movement, to register for the tournament. Qatar, which saw the direction in which things are going, decided to leave the tournament relatively quietly and give up the rights to host it.  Who took them? That’s right. Egypt. In fact, already then there was tension between Qatar and the Egyptian-Saudi bloc, which was expressed in football.

Politics aside, the Arab Club Championship is a special event. In the shadow of political tension in Egypt and the Middle East, the Arab world will try to demonstrate its modern, 'unified' side. The side who celebrates his collective Arab identity, which is connected to Twitter and social networks, unites around football. And above all, the side that is celebrating the fact that the football revolution is making one of its first and most important moves at its own field.