TodayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s article is intended to try to keep our love of football in some sort of perspective. There are many times when the joy of the game acts as a wonderful antidote to the misery and grief in the world. Sadly, there are times when it just becomes a part of it.
I read about a tragic story from the Democratic Republic of Congo over the weekend where thirteen people, mostly teenagers, died at a football match.
The tragedy shows that fans around the world are passionate and excited by football but that the culture in which we watch the games couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be more different. Despite being from such different backgrounds, the world of football and the family of the football fan is a fraternity that speaks a universal language.
In this terrible case in the Democratic of Congo the victims were reportedly killed whilst rushing to the exits at the ground in Butembo after allegations of witchcraft had been levelled at the goalkeeper of one of the teams.
Reports say that fighting began on the pitch and on the terraces following the witchcraft accusations. It is apparently common for there to be reports of witchcraft to surface in that area.
The BBC correspondent in the area was told by an eye-witness that the victims were trapped and trampled on at the exit as the crowd tried to escape from the stadium which holds 15,000 people.
The game, between Nyuki and Socozaki, was a local derby to decide who would qualify for the local league of North Kivu province. In other words, I guess, it was an important game for all concerned. I know nowhere near enough about the African game to fully explain the importance, but it definitely held significance.
Although all the reports havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t been confirmed the eye-witness explained to the BBC;
“It started at half-time when the keeper of Nyuki removed stuff from his jersey and threw it into the net of their opponents. Socozaki players caught him and started beating him after alleging that he had tried to throw witchcraft in their net. His Nyuki team-mates intervened and a fight broke out between the two sides.”
Some reports also said that a police commander trying to stop the fighting was then hit in the head by a missile of some sort thrown from the crowd and that the Police boss later died. Those reports have not been officially confirmed either at the time of writing.
In order to quell the fighting, the Police ended up firing tear gas into the crowd which led to the people scurrying for the exits and almost inevitably, some people being killed and injured.
At a time when the big issue in English football is around John Terry having his red card overturned. At a time when the big issue in Italian football is club director saying that Jose Mourinho needs a slap in the face. At a time when the big issue in Spanish football is whether Pep Guardiola can turn around the fortunes of his struggling Barcelona side, maybe this incident in the Democratic Republic of Congo puts all those issues down the list of importance.
Football is played the world over and loved by millions and millions of fans. For anyone to die at a football match is a terrible tragedy. For thirteen people to die is wrong and should never happen again. For a Westerner like me, the fact that a football match descended into violence and death as a result of witchcraft allegations is almost beyond comprehension. However, we cannot look on with too much surprise. Amongst many other incidents, for all of us, the Heysel disaster is not too far distant for us to forget it.
No matter what the culture and what the cause, violence and death in football can never be allowed to become the norm. It happens far too much in all corners of the world.
I was going to write this article about the FAs decision to overturn John TerryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s red card from the game at Manchester City at the weekend. When I read about these events in Africa I realised that I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really care about that decision one way or the other.
At a time when many of us are worrying about the trifling issues in football IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m sure that the football world as a whole would want to send itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s support and sympathy to the families of the tragic football fans killed and injured in Butembo.
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