Port Said Football Tragedy: When Sport Meets Dirty Egyptian Politics

Published February 2nd, 2012 - 18:36 GMT

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Egyptian football fans
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Image 1 of 9: Egyptian football fans rush to the pit during riots that erupted after a football match between Al-Masry and Al-Ahly teams in Port Said, 220 kms northeast of Cairo. This was an away game for the popular Cairo club Al-Ahly who were received by local home team Al-Masry at the Mediterranean port town.

Crowds Cairo train station violent clashes
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Image 1 of 9: Crowds meet ambulances at Cairo's train station, receiving those wounded in violent clashes, after a football match in Port Said last night went horribly wrong. A lethal mix of revolution politics, thuggery, propaganda & old-fashioned hooliganism entered Egypt's respected football league arena, finding outlet in the stadium rather than Tahrir Sq.

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Image 1 of 9: Al-Ahly players abandon the pitch as Al-Masry fans rush to the locker-room. The 'big team' face-off with a local home team, underdog, victor- Al Masry - got ugly when hardcore 'groupies' in Egypt known as 'Ultras' kicked off. These fanatic followers of fanclubs, introduced grievances from Tahrir, Masepro,& propaganda into friendly football.

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Image 1 of 9: Fans rushing off the football pitch. 'Ultra' trouble-maker, fanatic football fans who had also been involved in the revolution - happy to make sport a politically-charged arena. These Ultras may have been finishing off business from Tahrir, specifically at the 'camel' battle. Al Masry fans held provocative banners aimed at the rival team Al Ahly.

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Image 1 of 9: Egyptian riot police: stand guard in Cairo Stadium during the first half of a match between Zamalek and Ismaili clubs in Cairo. The second half was suspended after events from Port Said filtered over. There was much criticism of the security and police who left their post and bailed as things got out of control.

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Image 1 of 9: Flares thrown in the stadium during clashes that erupted after a football match between Egypt's Al-Ahly & Al-Masry teams. As taken from the Arabic for 'crude weaponry'- 'white weapons'- were used for most of the killings-- pocket knives, stones & bare hands. Sources say an al Masry fanatic (Abo Alarabi) rushed into the stadium with a taser gun.

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Image 1 of 9: Flames rise from Cairo Stadium early in the match, Zamalek v. Ismaili clubs. Port Said has had wide repercussions just a day after, with Al Ahly Portuguese coach quitting, Port Said's governor resigning & the PM sacking officials from the EFA board. Top clubs Zamalek & Ahly have been disqualified, as well as the Premier League being suspended.

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Image 1 of 9: As for football hooliganism popularized by Brits at home and abroad, here shown, fans of Liverpool and AC Milan fight in the streets.Comparisons to be drawn with Liverpool's Hillsborough disaster. This mass crowd crush, killing fans, threw into relief the need for crowd control and better infrastructure to safeguard against such tragedy.

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Image 1 of 9: Where were the police? Police were criticised for failing once again to protect the people. Most deaths were of football fans, with some deaths among the police force. Unfortunately on this day it seemed the police were still providing VIP treatment for the old-corrupt school of Egyptian politics, guarding vigilantly Mubarak's sick bed.

Egypt demonstrates to us what happens when sport meets politics and gets ugly.

At Port Said on the1st February, a calamity for sport and Egypt- still-in-revolution unfolded to a world that could no longer be shocked by events flooding out of Egypt. A football match-turned violent aftermath will go down in Egyptian and world history. More than a football scuffle or altercation, yesterday's tragic bloodbath at Port Said's stadium took place when sport was very likely infiltrated by politics, ending in death and Egyptian football being suspended for the second time in a year.

At least 75 people were killed after a riot erupted during an Egyptian League football match in Cairo. 200 people were injured after fans chased Al Ahly soccer players after they lost a match to the home team, Al Masry.

The fallout from this football violent spree was even more far-sweeping than a setback for Egypt's revolution. Sport careers have been devestated as have peoples' lives, as the psychological damage may last longer than Egypt's protesting habit. Top player Mohamad Abu-Traykah witnessed a football fan dying, and as a consequence, retired from football. A local mayor or governor for Port Said stepped away from his political calling. The Prime Minister sacked Egypt's FA. Portuguese coach Manuel José quit his post with the Egyptian team Al Ahly. Hussam Ashour collapsed in a fit of despair during a live phone with al Ahly TV station. 

Sport injuries shrouded in Conspiracy

Questions and angles of enquiry include, in typical Arab tradition, conspiracy theories. 

Much of these conspiracies theories tie into Tahrir. Others, suggest foreign meddling.

Not the expected sport injuries to result from a game of football: Several players were badly injured when the violence broke out after their game. Goal-keeper for Al-Ahly, Sherif Ekramy was gravely wounded.

People Versus Police again:

Ineffective policing? Crowd control was especially weak. And that was without the runnaway officers who fled the battle-scene. Other footballl games were cited in support of such criticism voiced loudly, that had been far-better policed pre-revolution times.

Massive criticism was being levelled at Egyt's security and police once again. This incident was cited as an anomoly for Egyptian league surveillance that was usually so safe-guarded as to ensure any attempted bootlegging of unauthorised water 'bottles' got stopped. Police in Egyptian football matches are notoriously vigilant for smuggled water entering the stadium! At a time when Egypt was expected to be vigilant in every sense while the country is still pregnant with change to follow, top security would be expected in any public crowd situation. Comparisons were made to regular games that were better policed. 

While football had been known to be aggravating the politics of the revolution as Tahrir events involved participation from the fanatic fanclub 'groupies' associated with Egypt's football league, known as Ultras, this degree of violence after a game has shocked local and international spectators. The fans cornered supporters on the field in the city of Port Said and around the stadium, throwing stones and bottles at them. While fans were left vulnerable to the vigilante antics that involved stoning, kniving, trampling and burning, security forces were to be found at Mubarak's bed side, securing the reviled leader, but not the country's people. Potlicians were still getting more VIP treatment than the population. It's like "Bend it Like Mubarak" screamed Al Jazeera! 

The trouble has spilled out of Tahrir and into football stadiums, causing yet another postponement of the nation's football leagues.

Protests have already ensued as a result of these latest events to unsettle unstable Egypt.

Poeple are now speaking of a semi-civil war being speared by the 'Ultras' (Egypt's unique fanclub landscape). 

Who instigated this hooliganism and violence? The details remain in the arena of speculation and conspiracy, as Egypt launches its investigation. The victor team Al Masry (beating Al Ahli 3-1) is accused of aggravating the sporting crowd spirit with provocative revolutionary propoganda.

Some say that the whole tragedy was due to Al Ahly 'Ultras' participation in the revolution previously at Tahrir.

Still, embroiling sport with politics is not a new tradtion for the Middle East.

Lebanon heavily appropriates sport into its heated sectarian politics. World sport no less, in the absence of its own high profile teams. In football, for one thing, if you support Germany, well you're obviously with Harriri. If Brazil, then Aoun. Or something like that.

 

Your thoughts on this football upset are welcome in the comment space below:

What do you think the implications of this national disaster will be for sport and Egypt's revolution? Is the criticism of the police and security in Egypt this time round too heavy-handed, given the nature of the arena of post-2011 Egypt when even police have their own security needs to consider?


 

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