A soccer match played in the city of Port Said today ended in tragedy. The game ended as the home team (Al-Masry) beat Egypt’s top team (Al-Ahly). Shortly thereafter, home team fans rushed onto the field while throwing sticks and stones as they chased players and fans from Al-Ahly. Bleachers were set on fire as the violence almost immediately broke out following the end of the game. Many people were stampeded and clobbered by others as officials and police officers watched from the sidelines. According to the New York Times report, “police around the stadium appeared unable or unwilling to control the violence.” More than 1,000 people were injured, and so far 73 have been declared dead. While the incident is not said to have been related to political unrest within Egypt, the violence nonetheless brings out “concerns about the ability of the state police to manage crowds in the wake of the popular uprising that forced President Hosni Mubarak to step down last year.”
What does this mean for the international world of sports? While sports fans can often be known to get rowdy and inappropriately excited during certain events, this incident is completely outside the range of any normal or permissible behavior for fans. However, even while it is clear that the fans acted in an inconceivable manner, the behavior of the police cannot be excused. It is the job of the police and military to ensure safety, especially at times of unrest (such as this) and they failed in even attempting to perform their duties.
Before any more scheduled soccer matches take place, it would be wise for Egyptian leaders to sit down and seriously discuss the ramifications of what happened today. It would be irresponsible to dismiss the incident as a one time thing. It is likely that if preventative measures are not taken in the future, then tragedies such as this will inevitably occur again.
I think what happened at the culmination of this game can be tied to the stagnancy that stile mires Egypt in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings. Despite the removal of Egypt’s ruling regime, there seems to be little change for general population. I can only imagine the rivers of frustration coursing through Egypt’s population as they continue to suffer through economic hardship and uncertainty in their government. I would imagine that, despite the result of the soccer match, much of the tragic violence we witnessed has just as much to do with politics as it does to do with sports.
Like Egypt doesn’t have enough to deal with. To now have people being killed at soccer games is scary. Having 73 people dye at a soccer game is certainly a tragedy. I would be interested to know what type of laws they have governing riots and policies for their police to handle them. It seems like police just standing around while people riot and beat on each other is probably not in their police policies and procedures. It will be interesting to see if the police are sanctioned for their actions or if it just goes down as a tragedy and there was nothing anyone could do. I’m sure the police and officials were way out numbered. This wasn’t like a political riot where the police are trained and prepared for this type of outrage. Maybe they were directed to stay out of it, although, a riot team of some sort should have been called. I still cannot believe that 73 people were killed over a sports game.
While obviously the people in the crowds account for a large portion of the blame, the fact that the police were either unable or unwilling to do anything about it is appalling. On the other hand, the crowds’ reaction here, which as stated in the article involved throwing sticks and stones in a riot like fashion, is certainly beyond the normal scope of sporting events which to some degree could make it understandable why the police did not do anything. If the police are low in number and without backup, then it is understandable, though maybe not totally justifiable, that they might have just let things run their course. Granted, they have a duty to maintain order and protect society, but the average human being is not going to stand up to overwhelming odds and sacrifice himself/herself to maintain that order.
As such, I think the main question to ask is if the problem here has to do with an overwhelmed police force or an unconcerned one and unfortunately either way the answer is troubling. If the government and the police, in knowing this event was going to occur, did not take proper precautions in case this sort of behavior occurred, then this is a troubling show of judgment, regardless of the fact that this type of riot/reaction is atypical. On the other hand, if the police were unwilling to control the crowd that is likely of greater concern because it means the government does not have proper control over its police force. Either way, this event must be investigated further to make certain that steps are taken to ensure this sort of thing does not happen again.
Soccer has been known for its sometimes destructive fan activity, but this latest event takes it to a new extreme. Certainly, the Egyptian government needs to put new safe-guards in place to make certain that such an incident can never happen again. Perhaps the lax attitide of the police can be explained by a feeling by the new Egyptian government of not wanting to be viewed in any way as an oppressor of the Egyptian people. Despite this, there are certain times when a governemnt needs to take a strong stand to protect its people. This was one of those times. It is possible that if Egyptian police acted quickly this disaster could have been avoided. In short, the Egyptian police should have ignored how they might have been perceived and have taken action to protect their people. Life is certainly more important than how one may be perceived.