There have been a lot of sick sights at soccer stadiums over the years, but the ones in Port Said, Egypt on Feb. 1 could possibly have been the worst of all. At least 74 people died while hundreds more were injured when thousands of fans rushed the field and rioted after a league game between home team Al-Masry and the visiting Al-Ahly club.
Many fans suffocated to death in a narrow exit corridor which led to a locked gate while others were stabbed or beaten with clubs and stones as there was no escape route out of the stadium. Incredibly, thousands of fans were able to take flares, knives and other weapons to the game and many Egyptians have blamed the country’s police and armed forces for doing nothing to stop the mayhem and mass murder.
Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri called an emergency session in parliament the day after the incident and dissolved the board of the nation’s soccer federation. It was also reported that the region’s police chief and governor have resigned and several soccer players announced they were leaving the sport. Also, Manuel Jose, the manager of Al-Ahly has reportedly asked the club to tear up his contract so he can return to his homeland of Portugal.
Several Egyptian lawmakers said the lack of police control was intentional and there were political overtones to the attack. Some people accused police of letting the riot take place to gain some sort of revenge against Al-Ahly soccer hooligans, who have been active protestors against the government there since former President Hosni Mubarak fell from power last February.
Supporters of Al-Ahly protested violently a year ago and it led to the police force collapsing. Recently they have clashed with the army in an attempt to put an end to Egyptian military rule. Thousands of protestors took to the streets a day after the rioting and parts of Tahrir Square were sealed off. This also resulted in clashes between security forces and protestors.
All hell broke loose on live television after the game in which Al-Masry won 3-1. Instead of celebrating the rare victory over one of the country’s best team’s Al-Masry fans stormed the field with weapons and chased opposing players and fans who attempted to escape via stadium exits, but found the doors were locked when they got there.
They were trapped there with thousands of opposing fans behind them and no way out. Witnesses said that’s where many people suffocated, were trampled or were murdered. Some others fell to their deaths from bleachers.
As the violent scenes were taking place, most of the riot police on hand just stood and watched. The stadium lights were turned off at one point and the violence carried on in the darkness. One policeman was killed while more than a dozen were injured and close to 50 arrests were made.
After the chaos politicians were pointing their fingers at each other while the Ultras, a group of soccer fans, said the police and military wanted to punish them for their role in last year’s uprising and protests. Many Ultras felt they were abused under Mubarak’s regime and have recently taken to sing anti-police songs at soccer games.
It was reported there were approximately 22,000 fans at the game with 2,000 of them supporting the visitors. Egypt has declared three days of mourning. While trouble was flaring in at the game in Port Said, a fire was set at another game in Cairo, but it’s unclear if the incidents were related.
Whether the killings were the result of organized political groups or soccer hooligans, it’s beyond belief that in this day and age people are able to take weapons into a stadium without going through security checks. The first thing all leagues around the world need to do is ban the ridiculous flares that are often set off during games. It’s not going to end the violence, but at least it’s a start.