Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

90-Minute Nationalism | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Football has a beautiful face, one that reveals the creativity, art and athleticism of this sport, and shows how football can be used as a means of communication between communities and societies. However football has another face, one that we occasionally see when the game deviates from its natural course, and becomes a factor in violence, conflict, and aggression. This can be seen in the current crisis between Egypt and Algeria, however the main cause of these tensions has been due to the continuous reports issued by some media agencies [stirring-up] the tension between the two countries, despite the special and historical bonds that link the two nations together.

One could say that such football conflicts are limited to the Arab world, but this would be a mistake, and this is a problem that is seen throughout the world. For example, a war between El Salvador and Honduras [known as the Football War] was ignited as a result of a football game. This war lasted four days and resulted in over 14,000 deaths and injuries. Whilst in Italy, the country that is famously mad about football, the Editor of the La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper, Carlo Verdelli, described the hazardous atmosphere in Italian football by saying “we have reached an atmosphere of fear and terror in the stadiums that requires a police presence and police intervention to prevent violence.” All too often it is the Italian police that bare the brunt of this violence, and before any important football match the Italian police seize knives, batons, axes, and firecrackers from supporters. Even Brazil has begun to suffer from some of the more unsavory aspects of football violence, with 42 fans being killed in football-related violence over the past 10 years. Whilst in Nigeria, [Abel Tador] the captain of Bayelsa United F.C. was shot and killed only hours after leading his team to the league title. Meanwhile Germany was forced to create a special task-force to deal with football riots.

The European Championships has also been the scene of many violent incidents in the past, caused by what has come to be described as the phenomenon of “90 minute nationalism.” This is a phenomenon whereby feelings of fanatical nationalism that goes beyond the ordinary and rational are provided during a football match, with football being seen akin to a battle or war, and the [opposing] fans unleashing their anger at one another.

I was talking to a friend of mine a few days ago about the growing phenomenon of football violence; he said what can you expect from a game whose vocabulary includes words like, attack, defense, formation, and tactics? This is the same vocabulary used in war.

Will the rational and intellectuals save football from the dominance of the rioters and the fanatics?