Hooliganism, soccer riots, and the American media

The American medias all too purposeful misrepresentation of social conflicts as soccer problems
by Abram Chamberlain   |   Tuesday, February 07, 2012

By this point I’m sure that everyone has heard about the “soccer riot” in Egypt. Somewhere between 74 and 80 people have died, nearly 1,000 people have been injured, and former USMNT coach and current Egyptian National Team coach Bob Bradley was involved in a march to support the protesters.

Why do I know that most people have heard of this “soccer riot”? I know this because it was all over the American media.  They absolutely made sure that it was heard about.  This wasn’t sold as a political uprising.  At first it wasn’t mentioned that security locked the people in the stadium like caged animals at a dog fight.  There was no mention of the constant political upheaval in Egypt since the fall of former president Hosni Mubarak. No, this was nothing more than another “soccer riot.”

If there is a term I dislike, it is “soccer riot”.  When the streets of Vancouver were ablaze following the Canucks loss to the Bruins last year, it was not referred to as a “hockey riot“.  When the 2010 Greek basketball championship between Olympiakos and Panathinaikos had to be called off due to fans rioting, it was not looked at as a “basketball riot“.  When Victoria Snelgrove was shot by the police in 2004 following the Red Sox ousting the Yankees and making it to –not yet winning– the World Series, it was not called a “baseball riot“. However, when violence broke out in Egypt –a country where far worse bloodshed has been breaking out regularly for awhile now– the media immediately calls it a “soccer riot” without looking further into the contributing factors until days later.

Considering that several major radio show hosts have said that soccer is not a real sport (Chris Russo) or that it is not for real athletes (Jim Rome) it is odd that they enjoy showing the carnage that happens at soccer games and blaming it on the game.

There is almost an ignorant thought that in other sports violence begets the sport.  The thought is that violent, drunk people attend games ready to fight and use the sport (baseball, basketball, American football, curling, volleyball, cricket, chess, etc.) as an excuse to exorcise their violent venom. Yet they also seem to believe that soccer begets violence.

People have seen Green Street one too many times.  They think that the racist attitudes in soccer only exacerbate the situation. Perhaps, they –wrongly– think that since soccer is for wimps, and nothing interesting happens, the watchers of the game must act violently for any real action to take place.

Then when the violence happens they can flash it all over their television stations as if to say, “see we told you, this is what soccer does.” They run it at the top of 24-hour news stations to say, “soccer is only about hooliganism.”  They talk about it at the bottom of the hour saying, “soccer always leads to violence.”  But they never look deeper.

But what is it about violence that surrounds soccer that makes journalists separate it from the violence that surrounds every other major sport.  This past weekend there were two large sporting events happening.  First, of course, was the NFL’s Super Bowl.  The second is a derby match between West Ham and Millwall (the clubs who’s firms inspired Green Street).

Luckily, neither the Super Bowl nor the West Ham-Millwall match was followed by widespread violence.  But if they had been, one can only imagine that the Super Bowl would have been sold as “a celebration that got out of control,” whereas the other would be called “a violent soccer riot.”

Of course there were several arrests at the Super Bowl, but West Ham and Millwall did the unthinkable to curtail violence at a sporting event: they did not allow individuals who appear drunk to enter the grounds, but further than that they did not even sell alcohol on the premise of Upton Field. Imagine if the City of Indianapolis said no to liquor sales at the Super Bowl? That event would be pulled and moved before the first line was painted on the field.

Alcohol plus sports rivalries tend to always equal trouble.

In 2008 a Yankees fan ended up ramming her car into a group of Red Sox fans.  The fans were mocking her, at a New Hampshire bar, and she drunkenly thought she’d teach them a lesson by murdering a few of them.

Then there is the more recent 2011 case of Bryan Stow who was beaten outside of Dodgers Stadium following a Los Angeles Dodgers-San Francisco Giants game. Again a group of drunken fans decide to get into a fight with an opposing fan, and they end up putting him into a coma.

And who can forget the Artest Malice in the Palace of Auburn Hills?  One more time a drunken fan tosses something at a player, the player responds –immaturely, and a brawl breaks out.

Yet none is viewed as a baseball or basketball murder, attack, or riot.  Instead they are looked at as drunken fans acting stupidly because of a sport, not due to the sport. For some reason soccer gets a special place.  In Simon Kuper’s Soccer Against the Enemy, he interviewed an Argentinian general.  Upon learning of the books theme the general sarcastically responded, “Soccer and politics! What an original theme!” (208).

Soccer has it’s own place. It is more important in the rest of the world, not just more popular.  Closer border, religious turmoil, and racial clashes all carry into the soccer pitch.  These issues exists out of the realm of soccer, but these arenas serve as a place where enemies end up on top of each other.  It is, perhaps, a European thing not a soccer thing.  And without looking at the actual causes of “soccer riots” the American media is, perhaps purposefully, being disingenuous.

Are they trying to scare Americans with soccer riots? Are they trying to insult the rest of the world, because at least ‘Merica doesn’t do this? If the latter is their goal they are more foolish, because at least there are true causes –outside of alcohol– for soccer violence where it is just the sport’s rivalry that seems to cause it in basketball, hockey, throwball, and baseball.

I just hope that as more comes out on the Egyptian riot –not “soccer riot”– it gets just as much attention as the “soccer riot” did.  After all, 70 people died and they deserve the truth of the situation to come out. Even if it doesn’t fit the American media’s story-line.

Abram CHAMBERLAIN

Nationality:
USA
College:
Tuskegee Univ. Troy Univ.
Club Domestic:
NE Revolution
Club Foreign:
QPR & Villarreal
A Northeasterner trapped in the South who is living football in a part of the country controlled by American football. Looking for the irony, humor, and intricacies in the stories told through the beautiful game.
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