Ex-Egyptian Soccer Star Snubs Pope's 'Match for Peace' Over Israeli Participant

Mohammed Aboutrika refused the Vatican's invitation to the September 1 friendly in Rome because Israeli player Yossi Benayoun is taking part.

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File photo showing Egypt's Mohammed Aboutrika (R) with former team mate Emad Ibrahim in 2008.Credit: Reuters

Retired Egyptian soccer star Mohammed Aboutrika has refused the Vatican's invitation to play in an interfaith soccer match promoting peace - because Israeli player Yossi Benayoun is taking part.

The Inter-Religious Match for Peace" will take place on September 1 at the Olympic Stadium in Rome.

Aboutrika tweeted his refusal with the invitation letter he received from the Vatican. The tweet said, "This is a photo for the match invitation which I turned down because of the Zionist state. Pardon us, we are raising new generation." 

Among the top players, active and retired, who did accept Pope Francis' invitation are Argentine greats Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi. Maradona told Argentine media that the pope called him personally and asked him to play for the peace between Israel and Palestine. Francis also called Messi to request his participation. Players from Russia, Cameroon, Italy, France and Brazil, will also participate.

The match will be hosted by the Pupi Foundation, a charity founded by the Argentine soccer player Javier Pupi Zanetti, as well as the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences.

In May, Francis hosted then-Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for a prayer summit at the Vatican. 

صورة من الدعوة للمباراة ورفضى لها بسبب الكيان الصهيوني عفوا نحن نربى اجيال . pic.twitter.com/EWlAtfM6HE

Yossi Benayoun at West Ham Credit: Sharon Bukov and Seffi Magriso