Way back in 2008 I wrote an article for Bleacher Report's international football section about "The Ugly Side of Sport," which at the time proved to be a very controversial topic. The main point of the article was that hooliganism and rioting were ruining the game. The incident in Port Said, Egypt, today appears to be the ultimate justification of my commentary. Under any other circumstances I might feel some sense of satisfaction at being proved right, but that's impossible in this case, and here's why...
The violence in Port Said was instigated due to a pitch invasion by allegedly (and somewhat unusually) fans of the winning side, Al-Masry. Normally it would be expected that any violence would be initiated by fans of the losing side (in this case, Al-Ahly).
As a result of this senseless and—at first glance—irrational violence, at least 73 people have lost their lives and over 1,000 were injured. It is the single greatest disaster in Egyptian football history, and a blight of shame on the entire sport of soccer. Although, as it turns out, the cause of this catastrophe may have had nothing to do with sport at all.
Conspiracy theories already abound, and it will be difficult to reach a solid conclusion since all of them currently seem plausible. It could have simply been a case of celebration that got out of hand, but given the recent political and social upheaval in the nation, there are indeed reasonable grounds to suspect something more sinister may have been afoot.
For example, one theory suggested by Egyptian politician Essam al-Erian points the finger of blame at supporters of the recently ousted president, Hosni Mubarak, perhaps as a way of demonstrating that the current government—a military dictatorship for the moment, led by Hussein Tantawi—is unable to maintain civil order.
Equally, however, the violence could have been planned by Tantawi as a way of demonstrating that Mubarak's supporters were troublemakers and that his government is responsible and caring. In response to the violence, Tantawi sent planes to help with evacuation of the players and some of the most seriously injured spectators.
Numerous other theories also exist. Regardless of the cause, the result is still the same. Soccer has once again been used merely as an excuse for obviously premeditated violence. During the incident, rioters are said to have thrown fireworks, bottles and stones.
For those who may feel compelled, as you did last time I wrote on this subject, to defend football violence as an acceptable part of the tradition of the sport, I'd like you to pause for a moment to reflect on just one thing: 73. That's at least the number of people who won't be going home because of this tragedy.
Husbands have lost their wives, mothers have lost their sons, brothers and sisters will never see each other again. It's the sort of thing that should only happen in war; it should never happen to people who have paid money for two hours of entertainment. Think about that.