ACCRA: Ghana s foreign minister has apologized to ambassadors from Arab nations after a Ghanaian soccer player triggered a diplomatic bust-up by raising the Israeli flag to celebrate a World Cup victory. Defender John Paintsil, who plays his club football in Israel with Hapoel Tel Aviv, waved a small blue and white Israeli flag after Ghana s 2-0 win over Czech Republic last Saturday, provoking anger from Arab states. Libyan authorities summoned Ghana s Ambassador in Tripoli earlier this week to express their indignation over the incident, Ghana s Foreign Minister Nana Addo Akufo-Addo said. But he said Paintsil had no ill intent, and his actions were not officially sanctioned. The incident was the act of an individual, who was completely ignorant of its political and diplomatic implications, and clearly had no official support, Akufo-Addo told Reuters on Thursday. Akufo-Addo on Wednesday met ambassadors from the Palestinian Authority, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Algeria and Morocco and apologized to them, he said. The government of Ghana deeply regrets this act by one of our citizens, Akufo-Addo said. Ghana has not drifted from its even-handed diplomacy in the Arab-Israeli conflict and we hope that this incident will not affect our relations with our Arab brothers and sisters, he said, adding he believed the explanation was taken in good faith. Ghana s Football Association apologized on Monday for Paintsil s conduct and the Arab League said on Wednesday it had received an official apology from Ghana over the incident.
In Egypt, both football fans and the media reacted strongly to the action.
The ignorant and stupid Paintsil, who spent 20 days in Egypt during the last African Nations Cup, plays for Hapoel, sports commentator Alaa Sadek wrote in the daily Al-Akhbar, explaining to baffled Egyptian audiences Painstil s link to Israel. Egyptians supported the Ghanaian team all the way until the 82nd minute, and regretted it after the Israeli flag, screamed a bold red headline in the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm. As soon as the referee blew his whistle to start the match, Egyptians were out enthusiastically, almost hysterically supporting Ghana, until defender John Paintsil took out the Israeli flag, read the paper s front page article. The live commentator on the Arab satellite channel broadcasting all World Cup matches in the region abruptly cut short his trademark Goooaaaaaaal when Paintsil brought out the flag. What are you doing, man? the bewildered commentator said. The main question on Egyptian lips after the match was why? Some papers described Paintsil as a Mossad agent, others said an Israeli had paid him to do it but the most elaborate theory was offered by the top-selling state-owned daily Al-Ahram. The real reason, sports analyst Hassan El-Mestekawi wrote, stems from the fact that many Ghanaian players go through football training camps set up by an Israeli coach who discovered the treasure of African talent, and abused the poverty of the continent s children with the ultimate goal of selling them off to European clubs. The training program for these children starts every morning with a salute to the Israeli flag, Mestekawi claimed. FIFA said they had taken note of the flag-waving and that although there was nothing in the rules to prevent it, they hoped not to see a repetition. Egyptian football fans who were out supporting Ghana during the match were equally rattled when the player took out the Israeli flag and dubbed him the Israghani (Israeli-Ghanaian). We were totally supporting Ghana and we were so excited by how well they were doing, Ashraf Al-Berri, who watched the match with a dozen friends, told AFP. We were screaming with joy, but the whole room went quiet when Paintsil took out the flag. We didn t really know how to react, he said. As an Egyptian I am very sensitive when it comes to Israel, Osama Mohy, who watched the match at a friend s house, told AFP. If Mido scores, would he wave the England flag? And if he did everyone would hate him for it, he said, referring to Egyptian striker Ahmed (Mido) Hossam who plays for England s Tottenham Hotspurs. African champions Egypt failed to qualify for the World Cup finals. Agencies