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BLOOD SPORT

The beautiful game, as football is known the world over, bares its ugly side in the form of crowd violence with frightening regularity. Football’s symbiotic relationship with collective unrest mirrors the truth that sport cannot be divested of its social history. Indeed, legendary footballing rivalries the world over stem from the fact that football clubs command strong loyalties and partisanship. Significantly, these loyalties persist, resisting the shared experiences that integrate communities in the cities. Violence during a football match can be directly linked to polarized identities and hostile sentiments. This association is not a modern phenomenon. Even in medieval Europe, football matches were organized to settle arguments between communities. In fact, in 1314, the English monarch, Edward II, had imposed a ban on the game because he feared that the disorder that was brought about by football matches would spread further, putting his kingdom in peril. The threat posed by football violence has continued unabated in modern times. History has been witness to a “Football War”, a four-day military conflict between the two Latin American nations, Honduras and El Salvador. It is widely believed that inflamed public sentiments surrounding the World Cup qualifying matches between the two nations further precipitated the crisis. In Europe, the links between violence and football are usually attributed to a society that is still divided on racial lines. Many European nations continue to battle the ugly phenomenon known as ‘football hooliganism’, which is characterized by acts of rioting, vandalism, brawling and intimidation.

Little can be done to strip football of its social dimension. But European nations have shown that exorcizing the spectre of violence in football is not impossible. This goal has been achieved by upgrading the security apparatus in stadiums through the installation of modern surveillance equipment, such as closed-circuit television sets. The police have also been trained in managing hostile crowds. Football clubs are also known to utilize their funds in recruiting stewards who work in tandem with the police to tame unruly fans. Finally, citizens have been sensitized to the fact that it is ethics and not hostility that makes football a beautiful game.