Tunisian poll questions source of sports fan violence
By Jamel Arfaoui for Magharebia in Tunis – 08/01/09
A new opinion poll released on Tuesday (January 6th) by Tunisia's National Observatory for Youth identified no clear culprit behind the sports hooliganism which has plagued the country since the 1970s.
Eight hundred people participated in the survey commissioned by the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Physical Education. A little more than a third (35%) of respondents said that fan committees in football clubs were responsible for the violence, and 32% put responsibility on club officials. Another 22% of those surveyed blamed the referees, while 9% blamed the players themselves.
"There is no match that passes without the fans resorting to violence, whether material or verbal," said Samir ben Mustapha, a fan of one of the capital teams. "In spite of the strict security measures around the pitches, the rogues find any means to use violence, even if their team is victorious."
The Tunisian Football Federation imposes punishments for violence during matches, ranging from financial fines to banning fans from attending and thus forcing clubs to hold "closed door" games. Clubs also send out statements before matches urging everyone to respect the other team.
Since no one group can be singled out for causing the problem, however, the right solution remains elusive.
Abdessalem Chammam, head of the referees' committee in the Tunisian Football Federation, believes that referees are being unfairly blamed for the sports violence.
"This has become a Tunisian peculiarity," he told Magharebia. "Fans who lose a match don't ask about the real reasons for the loss, to see if it had been the players who wasted the victory. Rather, they rush to accuse the referee of being responsible for their losses."
The referee's job is not easy and mistakes are possible, Chammam explained. "The referee is required to take a decision and implement it in a fraction of a second. We keep our referees accountable and call on them to be vigilant and to behave wisely so that the match may not turn into violent clashes."
Blame must be shared for the well-documented episodes of property damage and violent clashes which follow hotly-contested matches, argued La Presse sports editor Salah Kadri.
"Everyone is responsible, whether coaches, players or fans," he said. "This is because all of them have just one aim since the start of the championship, which is to win the title rather than play football. This makes people tense and causes what we see in terms of acts of violence."
Even players are not exempt from liability, Kadri said.
Footballers who "incite the fans and make them tense, especially when they dispute the referee's decision", should be held accountable if violence ensues, the sportswriter told Magharebia. Arguments and objections to calls on the pitch may prompt disastrous reactions.
Sometimes they may turn deadly.
Tunisians remember what happened on June 15, 1999. Fighting broke out between supporters of Espérance and Olympique Béjà after a Cup match. Ten people were killed.
In July 2007, after the Cup final between Espérance and ES Sahel, confrontations between fans continued for hours. Rampaging youths destroyed cars and property, forcing police to intervene.
Even the sports press is not exempt from responsibility for inflaming football violence. Media experts complain that some commentators get carried away with their feelings and forget their neutrality.
"When you read the sports pages headlines," said Arbi Chouikha, a professor at the Institute of Press and News Sciences, "you feel for a moment as if you're dealing with a decisive battle – especially during matches of the national team."
"What do you expect from young people who have no place to go to release that load of anger except the football pitch?" he asked.
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