As Egypt is about to enter a new era, and as the fate of its president, Hosni Mubarak, looks to take the same path of his Tunisian counterpart, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali , who was toppled earlier this month by mass demonstrations, it is time to check what part, if any, did sports take place in the demonstrations.
According to reports coming from Egypt, it seems that soccer fans, including the ultras of Cairo’s sports clubs are an important part of an alliance of youth activists, Islamists, and workers protesting against the government’s failure to deal with poverty and eradicate corruption.
The Egyptian ultras modeled after Italy’s often violent fan clubs have proven their mettle in confrontations with the Egyptian police. There is no competition in politics, so competition moved to the soccer pitch, said an El Ahly ultra last year after his group overran a police barricade trying to prevent it from bringing flares, fireworks and banners into the stadium.
Dictatorships, even the ones disguised as democracies, will always try to control the masses, and since soccer attracts the masses, these dictatorships will try to control soccer as well.
Many dictators in the past had tried to abuse soccer for their own good. Benito Mussolini did all he could to help the Italian national team win the World Cup in 1934 and 1938. Generalissimo Franco invested a fortune in Real Madrid, trying to turn it into a glamorous ambassador for Spain. At the same time.
The Nazis were more careful with soccer. Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda was known for saying “soccer is too fickle, therefore dangerous for us.”
Soccer games have often been examples of how democracy could show its beauty, even in the darkest of times. In Argentina, for instance, fans threw tons of papers during the 78′ World Cup just because the juntas said it was not allowed. In Iran, soccer is the only “Western” phenomenon that the regime couldn’t sweep to the underground as it did to pop music, alcohol and even ties.
The involvement of organized soccer fans in Egypt’s anti-government protests should bring to life every Arab government’s worst nightmare.
The Middle East is populated by authoritarian regimes that don’t like “fickleness”, and want to control all public spaces. But those regimes can’t handcuff the democratic power of soccer.
Why? Because soccer let its followers to freely choose who they want to root for, it allows them to legitimately shout out their thoughts. It is a game that encourages and promotes creativity and imagination.
In short, the participation of football ultras in the uprising in Egypt shouldn’t surprise anyone. Soccer is a democratic light tower, the embodiment of what dark regimes are so scared of.