In the past three days, the soccer world has been flooded with terrifying stories of soccer-related bombings, Nazi chants, and even an attempted choking on an airplane. Although I haven’t been following the sport of soccer for very long, this burst of soccer-related violence and hate is both unexpected and depressing. But if anything, these recent events of violence again prove that the world of soccer and the world of politics are, and will always be, completely intertwined. Here’s a brief look at the recent events.
In Cyprus, there have been six recent car bombings – targeting referees, a referee’s wife, and even a referee’s mother. One group has claimed responsibility for some of the bombings, releasing a statement expressing their goal to fight corruption in the sport. Specifically, match-fixing is rumored to be pervasive throughout the sport in Cyprus, from the player level to league executives and referees. Marios Panayi (a former referee from Cyprus) recently spoke of the corruption, stating that he believed only 10 percent of current referees were clean. Panayi also believed that one senior official in the Cyprus Football Association was fixing matches to remain in power and make money off of television deals. Like many other Eastern European soccer leagues, money is largely blamed as the reason for corruption in the Cypriot soccer league.
In other news, a Dutch soccer game in Utrecht between FC Utrecht and Ajax Amsterdam was filled with Nazi chants and other feelings of anti-Semitism. Home fans chanted, “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas / My father was in the commandos, my mother was in the SS / Together they burned Jews, because Jews burn the best.” As evidenced by another incident in February when Chelsea fans prevented a black man from boarding the Paris Metro, unfortunately discrimination and racism are issues that have long been an issue within the sport of soccer. There have been 59 reported instances of anti-Semitism in the past first-half of the season, a dramatic increase from the previous season. Human rights officials like Shimon Samuels attribute this burst in anti-Semitism to a combination of neo-Nazis and jihadists, and also the difficulty that leagues and teams have in controlling fans (which they still need to support the team and buy tickets). Some have offered the idea of protesting games where chants like these occur (where players would walk off the field and halt play), but unfortunately these ideas have yet to be executed. Samuels believes that fans must detach football from politics for the greater good of the sport, but is this really a feasible aspiration to turn towards?
And finally, on a flight from Toronto to Atlanta, a male individual sitting behind Brazilian soccer player Oliver Minatel attempted to choke the player with the cord from his headphones. According to a witness on the plane, the individual believed that “this soccer team (Ottawa Fury FC) was trying to kill him,” and thus officials subjected the individual to a mental health evaluation upon landing in Atlanta. Minatel suffered no injuries, and there isn’t much other information on the individual’s reasons for choking Minatel. Although it’s unclear whether the perpetrator of the attack was mentally stable and had a real reason for attacking the soccer player, this incident shows that soccer is able to ignite a violent response from an individual.
These recent events in the soccer media are both troubling and saddening. There are many issues within the sport that transcend the simple idea of just playing the game. And no matter how much people want to disconnect the sport from politics, they will always be closely intertwined.