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If I were Neymar

Najib Saab, Issue 234, Septmber 2017

While some countries cut budgets allocated for scientific research and the environment because they consider them a luxury at a time of austerity, they still find enough money to spend on things that they consider more important.

The cost of buying Brazilian football player Neymar from Barcelona club has exceeded 800 million dollars. The deal requires Neymar to play for France's "Paris St. Germain" for five years. Our interest in the subject is not that the deal is the most expensive in the history of football, but that the source of funding comes from an Arab country that owns the French club, as one of its investments in public relations.

Had these funds been allocated to promote sports among the people of the country, the investment would be justified, even in times of austerity. But the goal here is limited to public relations. In recent years, it has become common to purchase and naturalize foreign professional athletes, simply so that the name of the buying country would be highlighted, should one of these players win a medal in any competition. But does this contribute to strengthening local sports capabilities and encouraging citizens to play sports, compete and excel? This is equivalent to the establishment of local branches of international universities, costing billions and benefiting only foreign students and researchers, or importing museums of modern art which are not visited by local people.

The price of buying Neymar is not the only sum that could have been used for more useful purposes. These include promoting education, research and sports among citizens, supporting culture and the arts, creating real job and production opportunities, and upgrading health services and the infrastructure, let alone achieving higher levels of social justice and alleviating poverty wherever it is found.

I will limit my interest here to the environment. What, if I were Neymar, could I do with these hundreds of millions?

I would have allocated half the amount for scientific research on water, desertification, energy, climate change and environmental policies, to be spent at national universities and research centers, and whose results would be used in practical applications benefiting the country.

A quarter of the amount could have been allocated to the development of environmental education programs that go beyond the curriculum and text books to activities outside the classroom, and environmental awareness programs that use the media and social networking to reach all sectors and ages. The remaining quarter I would have used for training programs in various areas of environmental management, for both public and private sector employees.

I'm not Neymar and I'm not a footballer, but rather an environmentalist. So I do not have hundreds of millions of dollars to invest in useful environmental programs. However, I know, by virtue of my work, that Arab countries face critical environmental conditions that endanger their very existence, if they are not quickly confronted.

At the forefront of the challenges is the rapid decline in the amount of renewable water, the inability to produce food due to the aggravation of drought and desertification, as well as air pollution and polluted beaches. Perhaps most important of all is the growing risk of climate change, in an area most vulnerable to its devastating effects, especially from a worsening drought and rising sea levels. The Arab Atlas of Ecological Footprint published by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) showed that the Arab region consumes resources twice as much as its natural systems can renew, which means it is in a state of environmental bankruptcy.

For all these considerations, we say that Arab countries are expected to invest in the future of their generations, beginning with securing their continued access to the basic natural resources supporting life, namely fresh water, fertile soil and clean air. This requires investing in the rational management of resources, both natural and human.

But the fact is that while some countries are devoting a small amount of funds to science, culture and the environment, or completely denying them under the pretext of austerity due to the economic downturn, they don't find it awkward to allocate thousands of millions to a type of investment such as the purchase of a football player.

If I were Neymar, I would have used the money to create an environmental renaissance that would move Arabs to the future.


Arab Environment in 10 Years
ARAB ENVIRONMENT IN 10 YEARS crowns a decade of the series of annual reports produced by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) on the state of Arab environment. It tracks and analyzes changes focusing on policies and governance, including level of response and engagement in international environmental treaties. It also highlights developments in six selected priority areas, namely water, energy, air, food, green economy and environmental scientific research.
Environmental Agenda
Environment in Arab Media
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