The British Museum’s display of Mohamed Salah’s shoes sparks controversy in Egypt

The Adidas X17 Deadly Strike boots of star footballer Mohamed Salah have been donated to the museum to celebrate the Liverpool FC player winning the Golden Boot for being the top goalscorer in the Premier League this season.

The 25-year-old Egyptian, fondly called “Mo Salah”, set a new Premier League scoring record with 32 goals this season and has his boots put on display in arguably the finest ancient Egyptian collection outside of the country itself—the British Museum.

Neal Spencer, the museum’s keeper of ancient Egypt and Sudan, said in a statement: “This acquisition brings the British Museum’s world-famous Egyptian collection right up to date.

“The boots tell a story of a modern Egyptian icon, performing in the UK, with a truly global impact.” He added: “Displayed amidst the statues of ancient pharaohs, we now show the boots with which Mo Salah won the Golden Boot for Liverpool.”

“This acquisition builds on our recent project to acquire objects to tell the story of day-to-day life in 20th and 21st century Egypt … from sport, to entertainment, worldwide trade to design, this collection is now accessible to all—like those from other periods of Egypt’s rich history.”

The player’s Adidas shoes are part of the museum’s efforts since 2016 to boost its modern Egyptian collection, using “housewares and everyday items to ephemera and photographs” to tell stories about the north African nation’s historical and cultural development, and also to add a modern touch to the hundreds of thousands of ancient Egyptian artifacts it has housed for decades.

Following the display, the Liverpool goal-scoring enigma has been caught in the middle of unwanted controversy. The issue of showcasing foreign artifacts at the British Museum has always been controversial, with many looted during the reign of colonialism. The London-based museum hosts a vast collection of objects from Egypt and Sudan including the prominent Rosetta Stone, an ancient decree issued during the Ptolemaic dynasty. Egyptian officials have in the past demanded that the British Museum return it for good.

Zahi Hawass, archaeologist and former head of state antiquities, said despite his love for Salah, placing his boots among pharaonic monuments was “completely inappropriate,” adding “If the British Museum wanted to honor Salah, it should have built a museum for him or put the shoe in a special room.”

Hawas concluded that no player has ever received this recognition, “each country had its brilliant footballers over different times, but no country ever put its players’ shoes among its monuments.”

Head of archaeologists in the Ministry of Archeology Magdy Shaker also echoed the sentiment. Egyptian Archaeologist Wessam Hamada, however, expressed her disagreement with her colleagues, adding that she believes displaying Salah’s shoe as part of Egypt’s contemporary history is a wonderful idea, as no one can deny the Egyptian football player’s iconic role in lifting Egyptians’ spirits. She added that the fact that he became a part of every street story made him a role model for young Egyptians.

On 17 May, the British Museum in London put on display Mo Salah’s mint green football boots as part of its exhibition “Modern Egypt Exhibition”, a trial exhibition that was launched in 2016 aiming to display different Egyptian pieces including razor blades, cigarette boxes, and old radio devices that together tell the story of the evolution of Egyptian society. The decision was influenced by the Egyptian King winning the Golden Boot award as well as the Premier League Player of the Season title after an unforgettable debut season.

Mohamed Salah. Courtesy: Reuters/Carl Recine

This time, the project will display much more notable pieces such as a sewing device that was manufactured in Egyptian military factories in the 50s and 60s, in an attempt to highlight the notable societal changes during this period. The British Museum has the largest Egyptian antiquities collection in the world outside the Egyptian Museum, with over 100,000 pieces in display.

Salah has had an amazing season with Liverpool FC, scoring 32 goals in a 38-match Premier League season, in addition to earning several awards including: The prestigious Golden Shoe, Top Scorer of the Top Five Leagues as well as Liverpool’s Player of the Season Award. The record-breaking forward guided his country to this year’s World Cup in Russia, scoring twice in a 2-1 win over Congo to seal his Egypt’s first appearance since 1990.

The boots of Egyptian soccer player and Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah will be displayed in gallery 61 from May 24 at the museum’s Egyptian collection in the run-up to the Champions League final which will be held in Kiev, Ukraine on May 26.