The FIFA World Cup in South Africa has evoked extreme passions in many countries and put ‘football-based violence’ in focus. Why do people engage in violent behaviour, all in the name of football? Is it because the game offers a chance for rival nations to settle scores without guns and missiles?
When Argentina beat England in 1986 (helped by Maradona’s ‘hand of God’ goal), it did not evoke normal celebrations but instead even more ecstatic ones because four years previously the British defeated Argentina in the Falklands War. If this year, North Korea somehow beat the US or South Korea, this will greatly boost national pride in the communist nation.
In 1970, Honduras and El Salvador went to war over the results of a football match. At this rate, it is not far fetched to say that football is becoming more like war than peace.
If you think this incident happened too long ago, the qualifications for the 2010 world cup had its share of real war between arch foes Egypt and Algeria.
When the two teams played in Cairo, Egypt beat Algeria 2-0, leaving the teams with equal points in their qualifying group. Algerian players were stoned in Cairo and FIFA ruled that the return match be played in neutral Sudan.
Algeria won and a diplomatic row ensured when Egypt claimed that Algerian fans burnt the Egyptian flag. Violence between Egypt and Algeria is nothing new.
In 1989, after Egypt beat Algeria to qualify for the World Cup, an Algerian player, Lakhdar Belloumi allegedly blinded the Egyptian team doctor with a bottle. The following year, Egypt refused to send its team to African Nations Cup in Algeria
The notion that football is war is evident in the conduct of football hooligans who terrorize opponents by looting, beating and even killing rival fans. Thus far South Africa, working in collaboration with the UK Police, has barred more than 3000 known hooligans from entering South Africa. This is good news for South Africa, for this tournament has the potential to erase South Africa’s reputation as a country with runaway crime and violence.
South African fans meanwhile are giving visitors a nightmare because of their loud vuvuzela’s – the plastic trumpets that are so loud players are complaining that the sound is affecting their hearing on the pitch. The outcry against them is so loud that the host country is considering banning them.
Football has a way of awakening primitive and unreasonable passions in man- passions as diverse as fans painting their bodies in their national colours to causing suicides.
Remember in May 2009, when Kenyan Alphonso Omondi, committed suicide because ‘his’ club Arsenal committed had lost to Manchester United?
Or the football fan who was so confident of his team’s victory that he placed his wife as a bet? Well, his team lost and the authorities had to intervene to stop his wife being taken away as a prize!
Edwin Maina is a social commentator