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.