by Aowabin Rahman, Writer on Middle East Football
Several days have passed since the riot at Port-Said Stadium killed 74 and while the dust has clearly not settled with unrest spreading throughout the country, the time’s given everybody the opportunity to look back and debate on the kind of motives which triggered the events of February 1 and ponder whether there’s something fundamentally wrong about the game today that might encourage this level of violence.
Although the catastrophic events in Egypt appear to have been instigated and driven by political than footballing motives, the fact remains that time and again the beautiful game of football continues to be used by individuals as an outlet to resort to violence Politics has long been known to be intertwined with Egyptian football and last week’s tragedy is a culmination of corruption and quest for political leverage exploiting the sporting animosity between two footballing sides.
The incident left the recently dissolved Egyptian FA and the security personnel in charge with blood on their hands – their actions (or lack thereof) last Wednesday night can be described as incompetent at best and sinister at worst. Various sources suggest security forces had allowed weapons to enter the arena and were deliberately inactive when the riots took place, which makes the incident an anomaly in itself as usual cases of football hooliganism see police and security personnel assume the role of neutralisers rather than instigators. After playing a hand in staging the deadliest football massacre since 1996, the concerned authorities can expect almost zero trust placed upon them by players, staff and fans once football does resume in the country.
The fans involved have a lot to account for as well. Stabbing and assaulting an already outnumbered section of opposition fans in their home arena was barbaric and cowardly and supporters of Al-Masry have greatly disgraced their club after it had made global headlines for all the negative reasons . And while the ‘ultras’ of Al-Ahly are being lauded for standing up to what they believed to be an inept Egyptian government, they have, perhaps inadvertently, invited malevolent political schemes inside a football stadium.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter has demanded answers from the Egyptian FA regarding Wednesday’s events, but one can question if the football’s governing body has taken sufficient measures to prevent these disasters at first place. While FIFA has banned national federations in the past for being subject to political interference, it has to put more pressure on the respective associations to ensure adequate safety for players and spectators during domestic games. Perhaps it should consider extending harsher measures for cases where the role of security forces is absent or questionable.
Furthermore, rather than launching their own investigation, the international has chosen to rely on reports from the Egyptian FA, whose role in the whole affair is certainly not above suspicion. The footballing crisis in Egypt should have prompted the international body to make a bold counter-statement and their inability to do so might keep doors open for a similar calamity in the future.
People often talk about footballers letting themselves down as role models, but this is a perfect case of authorities and fans themselves setting extremely poor precedents. Football clubs have long been known to be symbols of often contrasting political and social ideologies but differences between these ideologies shouldn’t transcend beyond boundaries of sporing competitiveness on the pitch. While the onus is on the administrators to ensure safety of spectators, players and staff, there needs to be a heightened sense of responsibility on the part of those who’re passionate about the game. Cliched this might sound at this point, but a game of football is really not worth more than a human life.