Disgrace in victory


THE Arab world’s celebration of the fact that four of its teams, from the Kingdom, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco are heading for the football World Cup in Russia next year has been dampened by the behavior of a group of Moroccan fans in Brussels after their team’s 2-0 victory over Ivory Coast.

At least 20 Belgian police officers were hurt as a Moroccan mob went on rampage, torching vehicles, smashing shop fronts and looting goods. This was an odious way to celebrate their national team’s triumph and its consequences could be far reaching.

Belgium has a large ethnic Moroccan community. It is likely that at least some of the young thugs from Sunday night’s rampage were from the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, a run-down district in which some of the 2016 Paris bombers lived. Sunday night will reinforce tensions in the district where law-abiding Muslims have been alarmed by the attitude of the security forces, one of whom, after the Paris attacks, described Molenbeek as a breeding ground for terrorists.

The four percent of Belgians who are of Moroccan descent do not need this publicity at a time when community leaders have been working hard to negate the crass suspicion that every Muslim is a Daesh (the so-called IS) terrorist.

The Beautiful Game continues to be in serious danger because of football hooligans, of all nationalities. Russia is no exception. There, Neo-Nazi toughs haunt the terraces and the streets around stadia, in much the same way as formerly in Germany and the UK. In both these countries, these gangs were only stopped by resolute policing, including the extensive use closed-circuit television footage to identify the criminals who were posing as fans. Life-time bans from attending any games and prison sentences helped break the back of this thuggery.

It is clear that similar strong methods are needed elsewhere. However, in countries like Egypt with its deplorable record of murder and savagery between rival fans, armed with clubs and knives, who fought running battles in the streets, such firm measures are problematic. In Serbia, fans made monkey noises and threw bananas on the pitch when a black player was fielded by one league team. The sport’s world governing body FIFA and its European offshoot UEFA thunder against such disgusting behavior. In Egypt, spectators were banned from stadia altogether. This sanction was used even in well-mannered Japan in 2014 after fans held up a racist banner.

How hooligans associate themselves with football is a subject of considerable sociological study. It seems absurd that a fan should pay good money to attend a match and not focus exclusively on the ebb and flow of the game itself. Disappointment at poor performance is no excuse for violence. Even cricket has become disfigured by the disgusting antics of fans, not least in Asia. Perhaps there is a link between the huge sums now paid to players in top football clubs and India’s Super League. By contrast American League Football and Rugby, both violent contact sports, are watched by peaceable fans who will applaud good play by both teams.

As the Saudi, Egyptian, Tunisian and Moroccan teams prepare for their great test in Moscow, it must be hoped that their fans will do nothing to dishonor them.