The meshing of politics and football seems inevitable in some cases. Should we let it happen? To what extent the influence of politics represents a thread to the pure enjoyment, love and passion that we have for football? Jakob Weizman, a US citizen and Football lover gives us his genuine, yet wise vision regarding the matter.
Last year in October, I was able to experience the feeling of supporting your country on the football pitch for the first time, as I visited Podgorica, Montenegro to see Denmark play against Montenegro in the last round of qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup to be held in Russia.
Ever since I was a kid watching the World Cup on TV, seeing the fans full of pride go crazy for their country always made me dream of the day that I would be a part of that vibrant atmosphere, being able to cheer for your country and its colors is a wonderful feeling.
When I arrived in Podgorica, you could feel the nationalism within the Montenegrins and the Danes preparing for the match, as they headed to the pub to drink before the game. The Danes and the Montenegrins got along perfectly, enjoying beers and singing songs of their country together. It was a great environment to be in, with no tension whatsoever.
And then that changed when the police came.
Rows and rows of policemen walked into the street to patrol the crowd, along with police cars. It made me feel as if there was something about to happen, as if we were going to start fighting with the Montenegro fans.
The policemen then began to direct us to go somewhere else away from the Montenegro fans, to a street that was fenced off and patrolled by the police. I was appalled, nothing remotely violent was even occurring beforehand. It created an underlying tension between the two teams that would not have occurred had it not been for the police regulating the fans.
I understand that this may be protocol, but is this really necessary?
At the end of the match, after Denmark had won 1-0, we had to wait about half an hour for the Montenegro fans to leave first, in case a fight would break out afterwards. Once again we were directed to walk between the fenced off streets, avoiding the Montenegro fans.
Christian Eriksen after scoring the only goal that would give Denmark the victory.
If this is how a match is treated between two countries with absolutely no political or historical tension between one another, I cannot even begin to fathom what it would be like if there were actually tension between the two.
This is not an article about Balkan history, or politics. I am merely attempting to make a call to football fans around the world and in the Balkans to stop bringing politics into the beautiful game of football.
Take the Albania – Serbia game in 2014 for example, where fights broke out between the Albanian and Serbian fans after a drone flew over the field wielding the “Greater Albania” flag which represents Kosovo as a part of Albania, featuring the faces of two Albanian nationalists, Isa Boljetini and Ismail Qemali.
The words “Autochthonous” were displayed on the flag, and is considered offensive towards the Serbians. Serbian player Stefan Mitrovic tore the flag down, and it provided as a catalyst for clashes to break out between fans and players of the rival countries.
“We came to Belgrade to play football, but we were physically attacked by the Serbian supporters,” said Albanian player Lorik Cana told reporters. The game was suspended as it could not continue, with both football federations of Serbia and Albania being fined by UEFA for their inability to prevent the fighting.
Stefan Mitrovic taking down a ‘Greater Albania’ flag on the match Serbia-Albania in a 2016 Euro qualifier game.
This unfinished match serves as a prime example as to why politics and football should never mix. Of course some people would argue it is inevitable, but it is not difficult to attend a match to support your country rather than just shout insults at the other country to make things turn violent.
Rivalry matches such as Serbia and Albania are considered rivalry matches for a reason due to political and historical issues, so it is easy to understand why there will be tension at a match such as this.
But why bring hate into a sport that is not meant for political discussion? Do it elsewhere, but do not spoil what is supposed to be a great experience for everyone.
I understand the reasoning behind the protocol for the police to enforce security during these events, but the fact that they took extra measures to divide us from the opposing team is what struck a chord with me.
Sometimes, the violence is entirely inevitable. Especially in conflicted regions such as the Middle East, where teams such as Beitar Jerusalem in Israel are renowned for being the most racist football team in the country, according to the fans themselves.
Beitar Jerusalem FC is a football team that competes in the Israeli Premier League after being established in 1936 as a part of a nationalistic Israeli movement.
“Its ideology and politics are still an essential part of its DNA,” says news publication The Guardian. “With its large fanbase and backing from political leaders, it’s a symbol of the right wing in Israel.”
Beitar represents the entire idea of Zionism, being a Jewish team in a Jewish state that have never signed an Arab player, due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continuing to induce tensions between the two groups.
However, all hell broke loose for the fans of their beloved Israeli team when they signed two Muslim players from Chechnya, Russia, Gibril Kadiyev and Zaur Sadayev. It was the first time in the team’s history in which they signed a Muslim player, yet in this case they signed two. “The problem is with the Muslims, there’s no problems with Christians. Even today we have Christians playing in our team, they cross themselves on our pitch,” said Beitar midfielder Ofir Kriaf.
Gibril Kadiyev and Zaur Sadayev at their presentation of the club.
The transfer of these two players kickstarted the most racist campaign that football had ever witnessed, with Beitar’s radical fanbase “La Familia” hurling insults at the Chechen players during their first practice with the team.
“You brought us two muslims, not football players!” yelled the fans during the practice. They continued to threaten the team that if they played Kadiyev and Sadayev in the next match, violence will break out.
Things went wrong as soon as Sadayev scored the first goal of the game, the fans broke out in to cheer yet afterwards, began to leave the stadium in protest of his goal. “La Familia” continued to hold a banner that read ‘BEITAR FOREVER PURE’ as a signal of protest. After the match, the fans took to the streets in retaliation once more, marching through the streets of Jerusalem chanting “Death to Arabs” and hunting for Arabs to attack, which forced the police to intervene and resolve the situation.
The purpose of football is not to bring people apart, it is to bring people together that share love for their team and for the sport. Passion filled with hate never accomplishes anything, especially when it is somewhat ‘expected’ of the fans to start fighting one another leading to the police having no choice but to carry out some form of intervention, whether it may be peaceful or violent. This should not be expected of the fans in any case whatsoever. Fans attend games to cheer for their team, not to hurt one another.
We shouldn’t have to feel unsafe when we want to go see our favorite team play and enjoy watching the game we love. We shouldn’t have to feel as if our lives are in danger for the glory of the sport being mixed with politics. It should have never reached this level of brutality.
Let’s keep the beautiful game beautiful, not divided.