Bob Bradley walks a fine line as the American head coach of Egypt’s national soccer team. As a public figure working in a post-revolutionary situation, he chooses his words carefully so as not to inflame existing tensions.
But Ahram Online reports Bradley has come under fire for comments he made about an event that shook country to its core. In a recent interview with the BBC, he said that some Egyptians think the country’s military rulers — the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) — are responsible for February’s stadium tragedy in Port Said, Egypt.
“It’s clear that this was not a typical case of fan violence,” Bradley told BBC World Football. “There are camera reports that the gate was shut. One of the first things you see is that police are doing nothing.
“I hear opinions from people who say the military … is almost trying to say, ‘Fine, you want us out? Then this is what it’s gonna be like without us.’
“When you read stuff like this, then you see what took place, then you read some of the inside reports from Masry players who did not even recognize supposed Masry fans … when you start piecing all this together, then, as everybody knows, this was not just fan violence.”
Some Egyptian pundits slammed Bradley for the remarks, calling the 54-year-old a “conspirator,” among other epithets. Bradley claims his comments were taken out of context, and the Egyptian FA is threatening the BBC with legal action.
“Those who attacked me focused on a few seconds of the interview, ignoring the rest of it,” Bradley said. “This isn’t my opinion. I just meant that I hear conflicting opinions from people about the state of the country. I love Egypt and its people, and I will continue to work here.”
Despite the uproar, Bradley remains focused on the task at hand. He was hired in September to end Egypt’s 24-year exile from the FIFA World Cup Finals, and he intends to bring the Pharoahs to Brazil in 2014. Egypt plays four games in June. Two are World Cup qualifiers and two are 2013 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.
The former U.S. men’s national team boss has assembled the Egyptian team for a series of training camps and friendly games. Egypt is unbeaten in the five games it has played since the disaster, despite its the canelatino of the Egyptian Premier League season.
While victims and their families seek justice, Bradley is cast in a role much larger than the one he first envisioned. He serves as an icon, healer and voice of reason in a tumultuous time and place. If U.S. soccer’s accidental statesman doesn’t watch what he says, there are plenty of people willing to do it for him.
Photo via Flickr/Doha Stadium Plus