On February 1, a riot broke out at Port Said Stadium following an Egyptian soccer game that left 79 people dead and at least 900 people injured. The clashes occurred after the hometown club Al-Masry of Port Said upset their rivals Al-Ahly 3-1. Al-Ahly, which is based out of Cairo, is Egypt’s powerhouse club and has won the last seven league championships, including an incredible one-loss season last year.
The incident is the deadliest in Egyptian soccer history and is considered to be one of the worst acts of soccer hooliganism in recent times. Following the match, supporters of Al-Masry stormed the field, armed with knives, flares, stones, and sticks. They focused their attack on the fans of Al-Ahly, cornering them and unleashing their assault from all angles.
Players from both teams sprinted for the safety of their locker rooms as the pitch turned into a war zone. In addition, many fans who were not directly involved were killed or injured in the stampede that occurred when people were trying to escape the stadium. According to ESPN, Mohamed Abo Treika, who plays for Al-Ahly, said, “”This is not football. This is a war and people are dying in front of us.”
However, the violence did not contain itself within the stadium. On February 2, Egyptians took to the streets to protest against the police and military that failed to prevent or properly control the riot. Protestors surrounded the Ministry of Interior in Cairo, which oversees the national police.
Ironically, many of these protestors, who are now blaming the ruling military regime for the soccer melee, were the same ones that participated in the demonstrations that overthrew Hosni Mubarak last year. According to Egypt’s state news agency, close to 400 people were wounded during these protests.There are numerous reports regarding the actions of the police in the Port Said Stadium. Many witnesses felt police presence was too light and that officers did not thoroughly search fans for weapons as they entered the stadium.
Some have claimed that the police aided the Al-Masry fans by standing idly by as they attacked Al-Ahly fans. Professor Mazen Hassan at Cairo University told The Wall Street Journal that police inaction may have been due to fear of furthering their reputation for police brutality.
The riots and protests following this incident is an unfortunate reminder to fans that politics and sports are not always held separate. In Egypt’s case, it is clear to see that the events which toppled the Mubarak regime last year are far from forgotten.
By Dan Grimm