Stadium thugs

Uprooting of seats, throwing of projectiles, clashes between supporters and police: Moroccan football, although already accustomed to unfortunate incidents, has experienced an intensification of violence at the start of the season, reflecting a persistent social malaise. Already quite tarnished, the image of national football suffered a serious blow during the last weekend, after the incidents which marred several matches of the Botola Pro. In question, public policies that would not have tackled the problem head-on as several European countries did at the end of the 1980s.

On the sidelines of these Botola Pro matches, security operations carried out by the National Security services in Rabat led to the arrest of 81 people, including 46 minors, according to a press release from the General Directorate of Security. (DGSN), as well as the seizure, before the WAC-FUS match, of 35 bladed weapons and psychotropic drugs which were in the possession of the defendants. While in Oujda (MCO-FAR), the police arrested some 12 individuals, including four minors involved in acts of hooliganism, while in Fez (MAS-MAT), 32 people were arrested, including 11 minors.

Already in 2017, Fouzi Lekjâa qualified, during an interview, the scourge of violence in Moroccan stadiums as a “social phenomenon which calls into question public policies”. “Today we have to ask real questions about our education system, about our youth integration system […]in relation to the employment policy which allows the integration of young people by giving them stability and visibility”, he said.

Indeed, hooliganism is today considered to be one of the main evils that professional football must face. In common sense, the notion of hooliganism refers to the violent behavior of supporters. However, its use is confused and suggests that this phenomenon is uniform and stable, whereas the incidents caused by supporters are of various natures, that their forms vary in space and time and that the individuals considered as hooligans have plural profiles.

Mechanical reflection of society?

According to Zakaria Lahrache, holder of a doctoral thesis on the subject, “violence in stadiums has haunted Moroccan football for several years, causing material and human damage”. For him, “several causes are at the origin of this violence in Morocco and are all related to the social and economic conditions of the supporters, accentuated by the consumption of drugs”. “In addition, the poor organization that accompanies national championship matches and the interaction between ultras, media and club presidents accentuate the presence of different types of violence in football stadiums”, he underlines. And to specify: “Understanding this will make it possible to tackle the most recurrent causes, in order to prevent the intensification of violence”.

It must be said that beyond the current context, the stadium is not a mechanical reflection of society, but it is obviously part of it. It is not an airtight space. So, phenomena that exist in society are necessarily found at the stadium and sometimes the latter could be a sounding board or a revealer. “The stadium is not a place apart, and therefore effectively, it brings out things that exist in society but by working on them in its own way and with particular dynamics”, explains Abderrahmane Mhani, specialist in ultra movements. “It shows what can unite people: passion for football. But also what can divide them socially: the different stands at different prices for example, ”he says. “In addition, the stadium is a place that will exacerbate rivalries, make them appear even stronger than they are in reality,” adds our interlocutor.

But isn’t using this argument a way for those in charge to offload themselves and say that until society gets better, nothing more can be done? “I think so,” says Abderrahmane Mhani. “We are in a situation that is a bit unhealthy. We have the impression that it is absolutely necessary to know who is guilty. Society or football. As if it were two sealed worlds and that it was the fault of one, or the other”, he assures.

For Amine Chatoui, member of the Rajaoui supporters group Ultras Eagles, “a large number of young Moroccan supporters are unemployed, no longer go to school or are unemployed and, moreover, come from underprivileged backgrounds. The ultra groups cannot be responsible for the bankruptcy of the education system, or even that of an entire society,” he explains.

Some believe that the ultras still have a duty to denounce these acts of violence, especially those perpetrated by the supporters of their own teams. Something they almost never do, thus nourishing the feeling of being somehow accomplices, in one way or another.

Positive supporterism

It must be said that this crisis must highlight the need for the public authorities to set a course and fully grasp the problem. This has not been sufficiently the case so far.

If we take the cases of England or Germany, after the 1980s marked by a lot of violence, the public authorities implemented a global policy. The English strategy was that of zero tolerance vis-à-vis troublemakers with strong surveillance. They also renovated the stadiums and made everyone sit down. But the English model is also the transformation of the championship of this country which has become the best in the world. Economically, there was the need to increase ticket prices, which partly transformed the public. Managers have put in place an entire architecture to respond to these issues.

It was a bit different in Germany. They too had a policy of strong repression against violent and racist individuals. But they did not impose the seated stands and a price increase. They have developed what can be called a “positive supporterism” by promoting dialogue with supporters’ associations and developing social work mechanisms with young supporters to avoid any drift.

The solution must come from the state

In Morocco, we are in a very specific situation compared to European countries. For several years, we have resorted to the closing of stands, matches behind closed doors, travel bans. In short, decisions that affect the whole club and its supporters, and which have various perverse effects. In any case with recent events, it does not seem to have been effective.

Indeed, focusing primarily on these disciplinary sanctions means that we sanction an entire club and all of its supporters, and not specifically the troublemakers who may have a feeling of impunity. One of the key issues is to clearly distinguish, on the one hand, sanctions against violent supporters, and on the other hand, disciplinary sanctions against a club, which should be more linked to an obligation of means than to an obligation of result. Because you have to be able to distinguish between a club that has not sufficiently secured a match and another that is the victim of an isolated event that is difficult to anticipate.

But the real solution, European examples have shown, must come from the state. It is up to him to set a course and to stimulate a dynamic. It is he who must deal with the most serious phenomena and encourage the clubs to invest in security and improve their relations with the supporters. If the firmness with regard to the violent behavior of the latter is fundamental, repression alone is not enough. European countries that have convincingly addressed these issues have combined strong law enforcement action with other modalities.

A participatory approach

Several sports actors and lawyers, as well as national executives, for their part, insisted on the need for a firm treatment of the phenomenon of violence in stadiums. Among other things, they pleaded for an educational approach targeting minors in particular, through training and supervision in the family, cultural, sporting and social environments, emphasizing the importance of a participatory approach involving all stakeholders. .

In this sense, the lawyer and legal adviser Karim Adil indicated that “the fight against this phenomenon which affects public order requires rigorous application of the law”. For him, “this phenomenon is due to socio-educational factors and the failure of associations to fulfill their roles of supervision and awareness-raising”.

Mohamed Belmahi, member of the Moroccan National Olympic Committee, notes, for his part, in a statement to MAP, that “this phenomenon goes beyond sports stadiums and causes the degradation of the property of others and the death of innocent people”, pleading for d other approaches “involving the family, the school, the media, civil society, among others”. For this official, “the security and judicial approach is not sufficient on its own and we must act according to a global approach”. He also pleaded for “the establishment of provincial commissions responsible for taking all measures to ensure the safety of the sports public and to preserve property”.

A wave of overflows that is not unique to Morocco

The scenes of last weekend are certainly very damaging for the image of Morocco which must soon organize, among other continental and international events, the final phase of the CAN U23 qualifier for the Paris Summer Olympics, but are for the moment in no way comparable to the real disasters that have taken place in world football, and which have caused dozens or even hundreds of deaths and injuries.

In 1964 the “Estadio Nacional tragedy” in Peru, the greatest tragedy in the history of football, occurred during a match between the amateur teams of Peru and Argentina, which degenerated into riots at the end of the match, causing the death of 328 people and injuring more than 500. Some still remember the tragedy at the Heysel stadium in Belgium, which occurred on May 29, 1985, which gave way to a real bloodbath during the final of the European Cup of champion clubs between Liverpool and Juventus. Recently on March 5, 2022 at the Estadio Corregidora in Mexico, clashes between supporters left no less than 26 injured.

It is therefore time to put an end to these tragic and disastrous acts in our country if we do not want to experience scenarios as dramatic as those mentioned above.

Mehdi Ouassat


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