My daughter and I followed with great interest the final game of the Arab Clubs Championship that was taking place in Alexandria, Egypt. The cinderella team this year was Jordan’s Faisali club which overcome all odds by Egypt’s leading Al Ahli team not once but twice in order to make it to the finals against the Taraji, the leading Tunisian team.
The final game, which was broadcast on big screens in many Jordanian locations, was as exciting as one would expect. After a scoreless first half, the Tunisians scored two goals early in the second half. But the Jordanian team rallied back and was able to send the game into overtime scoring twice in regulation.
In the last minutes of the game, and while one of the Jordanian players was down with an injury a late goal was scored which commentators said was from an offside position leaving the excited Jordanian Faisali team and the hundreds of fans in the stadium and tens of thousands watching it totally devastated.
Losing at such last minute especially on a questionable referee’s call is hard to accept, but what happened after the end of the game was totally wrong. Players and staff of the Faisali team physically attacked the referees and the Jordanian fans in the stadium destroyed some seats in a fit of anger that was totally unacceptable. This unfortunate behaviour was captured on live television.
Sports violence is certainly not new. But what was troubling in this incident is the involvement of players and administrators who should know better. Players are held at a high esteem by their fans and club administrators are expected to be the cool heads in such a situation not the instigators of hooliganism and violating a sacred code in regards to those entrusted with making split second decisions. Attacking a referee after the end of the game is totally counterproductive. After the final whistle is blown the decisions of referees the world over always stay. However, attacking the individuals entrusted with making decisions during a game is a major violation of trust and almost always brings with it severe punishment. Reports from Egypt say that the Jordanian team might be punished severely for the action of its players and its administrative team.
What is most worrisome, however, is the near total silence that has taken place since. It is to be expected that some of Jordan’s royalty would congratulate Faisali for having accomplished an important feet of reaching the finals and securing the second spot. The King, Queen and Prince Ali all took to their social media accounts to congratulate Faisali. This is to be expected and it certainly soothed the anger at the last-minute loss of the championship.
But in addition to the congratulation and after the team and fans (who were detained but released due to the intervention of Jordan’s ambassador) one would expect some soul searching and an attempt to understand what happened and why and most importantly how to ensure it will not happen again.
When teams play outside the homeland, it is traditional that all people support them. Whether you support Wehdat or Faisali or any other club, when any Jordanian team is playing outside of the country all people cheer these teams on and this is what happened to Faisali. But along with this supportive national unity is responsibility by the travelling team. A team playing outside the country represents its country and therefore acts of hooliganism are reflective not only on those resorting to violence but it is a reflection on the entire nation.
When Jordanians look inwardly they will understand that these things happen and continue to happen because there is a culture of tolerance and silence to these mistakes. Social media this week was full of angry comments at the referees and in support of the physical assault against them. No senior Jordanian officials has said a single word of criticism about the mistakes of the Faisal team’s leadership that turned the team’s success into a public humiliation that went well beyond the sports pitch.
Nipping this kind of violence in the bud requires brave sports, social and political leaders who have the courage to say what needs to be said and to draw a line against violence of any sorts. Speaking truth to power would be the beginning of a healing process that would destroy forever this violent scourge from our society.
Jordan will not be able to address domestic, street and university violence and hooliganism if it is unable or unwilling to address it when carried out by a leading and beloved national football club. People need to be taught alternative ways of addressing problems in a nonviolent manner. Violence might be the result of serious grievances but it is important to learn how to deal with anger and frustration in a different way.