Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1245, (7 - 13 May 2015)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1245, (7 - 13 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Ultra violent

 A recent symposium in Cairo said society, economy and the media were behind stadium hooliganism in the Arab world. Inas Mazhar reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

“Arab Media and Stadium Hooliganism... Vision and Solutions” was a symposium attended by Egyptian and other Arab sports officials and dignitaries as well as senior members of Arab sports media.

President of the Egyptian Sports Culture Association and organiser of the symposium Ashraf Mahmoud highlighted the phenomenon of stadium hooliganism which has escalated in most of the Arab world. Mahmoud showed the audience a video clip of several incidents that have taken place in Arab stadiums. The video revealed fatal incidents that have become a real threat to the lives of both spectators and the players.

The phenomenon of sports hooliganism invaded Egyptian and other Arab stadiums around 10 years ago and has since become a serious issue with several deadly incidents:

— In January 2006, at the Africa Cup of Nations held in Cairo, riot police attacked Libyan fans in Cairo International Stadium after they threw projectiles at the Egyptian fans in the tier above during a match between Egypt and Morocco. The Libyan fans had stayed on to watch the match after they had seen Libya lose 2-1 to Côte d’Ivoire and had started taunting the home supporters. Egyptian spectators responded by asking them to leave the stadium and verbally attacked them at half time. When, despite a plea to stop, the throwing of objects continued into the second half, riot police were called in. The Libyan Football Association was fined $7,000 by the Confederation of African Football disciplinary commission.

— The Arab world’s worst stadium disaster occured in Port Said, Egypt, in a domestic league football match. On 1 February 2012, after fans of Masri, the home team of Port Said, stormed the field after a rare 3-1 win against Ahly, Egypt’s top team, Masri supporters allegedly attacked Ahly players and their fans with knives, swords, clubs, stones, bottles and fireworks. Seventy-two people, mostly Ahly supporters, were killed and over 1,000 were injured from both sides in the Mediterranean port city.

— In February 2015, 22 supporters died in what was officially described as a “stampede” and subsequent suffocation at the Military Air Defence Stadium in a league game between Zamalek and Enppi, also in Egypt.

Sports violence and hooliganism in Egypt and the North African Maghreb countries resulted in matches being held behind closed doors.

Sports fans known as Ultras have been blamed for football violence and hooliganism throughout the world. The global phenomenon started in Europe — England in particular in the seventies — before moving on to the rest of the world. That was when the word hooliganism began to be associated with violence in sports.

Much has been written in the media and tackled in scholarly and academic studies about the Ultras but the symposium went further to discuss sports violence itself, not necessarily who is committing the violence but why.

Mahmoud explained that sports hooliganism and violence continues to be a worldwide phenomenon which results in death, injuries and property damage. “Sports hooliganism in stadiums is not only in football matches but all kinds of sports — basketball, volleyball, handball... etc. Overzealous supporters act violently with destructive behaviour like brawling, vandalism and intimidation,” Mahmoud said.

“Though, there is no clear reason to explain this kind of action, studies and discussions have revealed that individual, social, economic and environmental factors could be taken as major reasons.”

It was suggested that structural strains, experiences of deprivation or a low socio-economic background can at times be instrumental in the acceptance and reproduction of norms that tolerate great levels of violence and territoriality, which is a common feature of sports hooliganism.

Conflict may take place before, during or after matches. Participants often select locations away from stadiums to avoid arrest by the police, but conflict can also erupt spontaneously inside the stadium or in the surrounding streets. In such cases, shop windows may be smashed, rubbish bins set on fire and police cars may be overturned. In extreme cases, hooligans, police and bystanders have been killed, and body-armoured riot police have intervened with tear gas, police dogs, armoured vehicles and water cannons.

Hooligans who can afford the time and money may follow the national team on its journeys to away matches and engage in hooligan behaviour against the hooligans of the home team. They may also become involved in disorder involving the general public. While national-level team support is not as much as at the club level, hooligans supporting the national team may use a collective name indicating their allegiance.

“Because hooliganism is a global sports phenomenon in which most countries have suffered from, strict laws are needed,” Essam Abdel-Moneim, former editor in chief of Al-Ahram Al-Riyadi magazine, said. “Clubs should be fined, suspended or deducted of points if their supporters get out of hand. Groups of supporters should be legally formed within the law or else it is called a gang or outlaws.”

Emad Al-Banani, executive director of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, admitted that Ultras had exhausted the public. “All recommendations that have been brought up in this symposium are to be studied but will require more thorough investigation in order to come into effect. We call for the formation of special committees for sports culture at every club to teach how to support. We should start with youngsters and grassroots support. Holding a competition for best supporters could also encourage fans in stadiums to behave if they want to win awards and prizes,” Al-Banani said.

Veteran sports officials say sports violence has changed over the years. As veteran radio presenter Fahmi Omar says, “At our time in the fifties and sixties, the most that could be called hooliganism was when supporters showed their anger and yelled, “Remove the referee”. Now, it is no longer verbal but firecrackers, chairs, bottles, and swearing which contradicts with the sanctity of sports and of the stadiums.”

Participants in the symposium also discussed the role of the media and society in combatting stadium hooliganism. According to Physical Education professor Sobhi Hassanein “such attitudes are related to the economic and social factors in the country. You rarely find a cultured person who is involved in such actions. It is an individual attitude which could be called uncivilised behaviour. The country should increase sports awareness, loyalty and combat fanatics to help minimise the phenomenon. And of course a strict effective law is a must,” Hassanein said.

Hosni Ghandar, president of the Companies Federation, said that hooliganism had almost disappeared from Europe because rules have been applied seriously. “But not so in Egypt.”

The media, especially sports media, were blamed for most of the violence in stadiums. “The media portray sports matches, especially football matches, as if they are wars. They incite fans against each other and coaches and players on both local and international levels. Matches held between Arab teams are already very sensitive, but the way the media report on these events creates disasters,” added Ghandar.

Both Mohamed Al-Kosi of Al-Ahram Al-Mesai and Alaa Ezzat of Al-Ahram Al-Arabi agreed that media, whether print journalism or broadcast news, are playing a negative and destructive role. “The media are biased and reporters and presenters are not ashamed to say whom they support. Unfortunately, it is all reflected in their reports. Readers and viewers follow them and are therefore affected by what they say and this is translated into sports violence,” Al-Kosi said.

Ezzat, on the other hand, believes that sports media is the worst and weakest in the sports system. “We all remember the Port Said disaster and how the media tackled it. The report of the committee pointed to sports media as the main suspect in the disaster. We lack professional, reliable and qualified journalists. They are the main reason for the spread of sports violence and hooliganism.” Ezzat said.

“Sports hooliganism has led to the suspension of football matches and international events from being held in Egypt,” Alaa Ismail of the Egyptian daily Al-Akhbar said. “As such, Egyptian sports has deteriorated. Clubs are to be blamed for nurturing the Ultras to the extent that they have gone out of control. I am against those who call for holding talks with these groups of supporters who are not officially affiliated to clubs or social authorities.”

Like in Egypt, most football matches in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco are held behind closed doors, according to the symposium’s North African participants. However, there are laws created to combat hooliganism.

Tunisia’s Lotfi Al-Abeid likened his country to Egypt. “Most matches are held behind closed doors. Sometimes, a home team allows its supporters in because they are club fans whose actions are guaranteed by the club itself. I agree that we need strict laws and severe penalties against those who cross the line.”

Morocco’s Youssef Bassour said Moroccan authorities banned clubs supporters from travelling with their teams to other cities to prevent clashes with the home team. “Now, we have a firm law whose penalty is up to 10 years in jail for whoever is caught up in sports violence and hooliganism. Other penalties are imposed like financial punishment and being banned from attending matches for years. In Morocco, a special sports security department was created to monitor the Ultras and fans’ pages on social media and communicate with them. It has been very effective,” Bassour said.

“High-tech cameras transmitting the matches and high definition television screens have led to fans staying away from stadiums. They prefer watching at home,” says Bahrain’s sports historian Nasser Mohamed Nasser.

Oman’s Salem Al-Habsi, head of Gulf Media, said the Gulf Nations Cup was the major football event in the Gulf with eight participating teams and thrilling matches, and more than 2,000 media representatives covering the whole event. “And it is always incident free. We have no violence in the region,” Al-Habsi said.

Mohamed Ismail of Bahrain confirmed that some Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia have strict rules that nobody ever dares break. “In Bahrain we don’t have groups of supporters paid by clubs who go and cheer for the team. And we believe that whenever violence erupts, the media are behind it.”

Yemen’s Raed Abed was one of the few to defend fans and said that violence is not caused by stadiums. “It didn’t start from there. Violence is in our society and we should wake up. Our Arab society is violent everywhere, from the schools and the streets and even at home. Children are brought up within violent families, schools and streets. They have taken it from there to the stadiums and not the opposite. And if we consider the media, it is 80 per cent responsible.”

In the end, the symposium summed up some anti-hooligan measures tried by police and civil authorities in some countries, including banning items that could be used as weapons or projectiles in stadiums; searching suspected hooligans; banning identified hooligans from stadiums, either via judicial orders or informally by denying them admittance on the day; moving to all-seat stadiums which reduces the risk of disorderly crowd movement; segregating opposing fans, and fencing enclosures to keep fans away from each other and off the pitch; banning opposing fans from matches and/or ordering specific matches to be played behind closed doors; and compiling registers of known hooligans and restricting the ability of known hooligans to travel overseas.

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