World Football - View from Egypt: Who is to blame for tragedy?

Thu, 02 Feb 18:38:00 2012

Mohab Magdy, a senior sport editor for Yahoo! in Egypt, tries to make sense of Wednesday's tragedy that left 74 of his countrymen dead.

Soccer fans flee from a fire at Port Said Stadium February 1, 2012. Seventy-three people were killed and at least 1,000 injured on Wednesday after a soccer pitch invasion in the Egyptian city of Port Said, a health ministry official said, in an incident t - 0

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First of all, a confession. I had never been interested in politics before, but it seems that politics is involved in everything in Egypt these days - especially in sport.

On Wednesday, the whole world witnessed one of, if not the ugliest and saddest incident, in the history of sport.

Seventy-four people died and more than 1000 were injured as a result of a riot after a football match between Al Masry of Port Said and Al Ahly of Cairo.

To some it might have looked like a tragic 'accident' similar to what happened in Europe before at Heysel, Hillsborough, Bastia, etc, but when we learnt that the majority of the deaths and injuries were caused by stabbings, head injuries from blunt objects and gunshots, it became clear that there are some serious questions that need answering.

'Ultra' fan groups started in Egypt in 2007, and although I am totally against their aggressive and fanatical style of supporting their teams, right from the start they have suffered a lot at the hands of the police. When there were calls for people to go out and create a social revolution, they were among the first to participate.

After the toppling of former president Hosni Mubarak, they continued their protestations against the police and lately they have been putting pressure on SCAF (Senior Counsel of Armed Forces) to hand the power to a civilian authority.

It is also worth mentioning that 'Ultras' played a major role in defending the protestors during the ‘Battle of the Camel’ at Tahrir Square last year, when 11 Egyptian protestors died and hundreds were injured by Mubarak’s supporters who were riding horses and camels.

Do the actions in Port Said sound like a message on the battle's one-year anniversary?

Though some may say that the historical unrest between Al Ahly fans and the local fans of Port Said is the main cause of what happened on Wednesday, I have to say that after the revolution, the level of intolerance between various Ultras groups decreased significantly - after all, they participated and were all united under the same goal which ended the era of the old regime.

Even if this week's incident was influenced by fanatical causes, does it sound logical that fans of a winning team would go mad and kill 74 people? They would surely know the result of such actions.

Added to that, this wasn’t the first incident of a pitch invasion by fans in Egypt after the revolution; this happened five or six times before, although on those occasions no one was killed.

 : Riots in Egypt

As we move on to the police force and their role in keeping order at football matches, more questions get raised that I cannot answer myself.

If we can accept that the police could not prevent fans from invading the pitch during or after the match, is it acceptable that they allowed some home fans to enter the stadium with knives and guns and as such, was this violence planned?

According to witnesses in the Port Said stadium, doors that lead from the home stands to the pitch were opened, so the fans didn’t have to climb or make any effort to invade the pitch and cause chaos.

On the other hand, doors at the end of the tunnel that lead the away fans out of the stadium were locked. This caused the away fans to become trapped inside the tunnel and their stand and so, they couldn’t escape getting injured or killed. Was this a police trap?

These are just assumptions and questions that I don’t have all the answers to, so if anyone can answer those questions or has an opinion, please don’t hesitate to contact me or comment below.

Mohab Magdy, Senior Sports Editor, Yahoo! Maktoob Arabic (http://sports.maktoob.com/)

News Egypt

Riots in Cairo

Mohab Magdy in Egypt / Eurosport

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