He is Liverpool’s star man on the pitch, but Mo Salah’s most important work could come in his campaigning for better treatment of women in the Muslim world.
Egyptian Salah is one of the world’s top athletes and is well aware of his capacity to bring about change.
The 26-year-old is one of TIME 100’s six cover stars on the magazine’s annual list of the world’s most influential figures – testament to his impact since returning to the Premier League in 2017.
In an interview with TIME, he stressed the importance of gender equality, while reflecting on his iconic profile in his homeland.
“I think we need to change the way we treat women in our culture,” Salah said. “It’s not optional.
“I support the woman more than I did before, because I feel like she deserves more than what they give her now, at the moment.”
Salah, who is one of six athletes to feature in the 2019 list, also discussed his role as a trailblazer and role model in Egyptian society.
“To be the first Egyptian in [this] situation and no one has done this before … it’s something different,” he explained.
The other athletes on the list are golfer Tiger Woods, the NBA’s LeBron James, US soccer’s Alex Morgan, tennis player Naomi Osaka, and middle distance runner Caster Semenya. Pro gamer “Ninja” (Richard Tyler Blevins) also features alongside global figures such as Donald Trump and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg
This is the first time Salah has featured on the list, but Woods, who won the Masters Sunday in one of sport’s greatest comeback stories, has featured three times and LA Lakers’ James four.
Two-time grand slam champion Osaka, soccer striker Morgan – who is expected to star in this year’s Women’s World Cup – and double Olympic champion Semenya are among a record 48 women on the list.
‘Better human being’
Salah’s global popularity surged last year when he enjoyed a breakthrough season with Liverpool, scoring 44 goals in the 2017-18 campaign and helping the English Premier League side reach the Champions League final.
While goals haven’t flowed as freely for the Egyptian this campaign, the forward is still this season’s joint-leading scorer in the EPL and his wonder strike last weekend helped Liverpool defeat Chelsea, continuing the Reds’ pursuit of a first Premier League title.
“Mo Salah is a better human being than he is a football player. And he’s one of the best football players in the world,” writes comedian and Liverpool fan John Oliver in his TIME dedication to the player.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find a professional athlete in any sport less affected by their success or status than Mo, which is incredible because I can’t imagine the kind of pressure that comes with the intensity of adoration he receives.
“Mo is an iconic figure for Egyptians, Scousers [natives of Liverpool] and Muslims the world over, and yet he always comes across as a humble, thoughtful, funny man who isn’t taking any of this too seriously.
“As a footballer, he plays with an infectious joy. I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to be able to play as well as him, and watching his face light up after he does something incredible, you get the reassuring sense that it’s exactly as fun as you’d want it to be. I absolutely love him.”
Salah is adored in his native Egypt, and former Egyptian footballer Mido told CNN last year that he is the greatest player the country has ever produced.