Supporters should support peacefully

There is no cloud, not even a single one. Not even one that has strayed from the pack covering some other country that is threatened by a cyclone or hurricane and has come down to southern Africa where periodically, cyclically, we are threatened by life-snapping droughts. Add the heat to the crowds and the emotions and you have an explosive mixture, a heady mix, a recipe for a veritable furore. Nay, a cocktail for a potential disaster. But there was none at Rufaro Stadium in Harare, the Zimbabwe capital city, on Sunday the 9th of April, 2006. Derby Sunday. Rewind to the day before: Malpensa Airport near Milan, Italy, where Internationale of Milan landed from their Serie A match at Ascoli. Inter’s Argentine captain Javier Zanetti and Italian midfielder Cristiano Zanetti were punched and kicked by ‘I need a word for them here. Some news reports from Italy had called them “fans” but you know by now, my friends, that I am reluctant to use that word to refer to someone who does something that harms the game. Anyone who, by their action of commission or omission, puts the game into disrepute. For me, fanatic is more the word for that person- although I am reluctant to even use the word person for them! Fanatic where, by fanatic, the intended meaning is that that’well, person, holds extreme or dangerous opinions. In fact, that that’well, person, is not beyond carrying out actions similar to their opinions in support of those opinions. Move forward to the Indian city of Guwahati on Sunday. There was rioting in the Eastern stands of the Nehru Stadium and the police had to fire tear gas shells to break up the mob which was breaking down anything they could lay their hands on, burning up in bonfires any combustible material they could lay their hands on, throwing whatever they could lay their hands on, and trying to break down the fence dividing the stands from the playing area. All this after the fifth One Day International (ODI) match between England and India was called off because of a wet outfield. The Italian disgrace occurred in the early hours of last Sunday as the Inter players left the terminal building at the airport. They were met by about 50 fans, all fired up to mete out their anger on the team for the European Champions’ League loss to Villarreal of Spain the week before. Initially, most of the fans limited themselves to hurling insults. But the situation degenerated in the car park, with Javier and Cristiano being manhandled by a smaller group before police intervened. The Indian trouble began at around 12 mid-day when umpires Rudi Koertzen and AV Jayaprakash went out to inspect the pitch. For the players and officials, there were concerns about some areas in the middle and the outfield. Not so for the fans who could see the sun come out now and then and so could not see why play was not starting. Add to what they could see to what they could not see which they thought they could see ‘ that is that from where they sat the field appeared dry and yet, to those actually on it, it was not fit for an international match ‘ and you had an explosive mixture, a heady mix, a recipe for a veritable furore. Nay, a cocktail for a potential disaster. There had been initial reports that the match organisers contributed to the outbreak by keeping the spectators in the dark, but a senior official of the hosting Assam Cricket Association was later quoted as saying that announcements were being made periodically on the public address, and in the local language. Whatever the facts, and the International Cricket Council (ICC) has asked for a report, the crowd behaviour should be condemned in the strongest possible words. Fortunately, neither player was seriously injured in the Italian job. But there are costs in India, and they may go beyond the financial. The assessment of match referee Roshan Mahanama is likely to impact in a big way on whatever decision the officials make over Guwahati’s future as a venue for international cricket. If they decide in the negative, then the Nehru Stadium becomes a white elephant. Not that they are unfamiliar with white elephants in Asia. Word has it that the term originated in present-day Thailand, then Siam, from the practice of the king to give as a present to anyone he did not like a white elephant. Because it was a royal present, the receiver was saddled with it and so had to carry, for the duration of its life, the cost of looking after the rare animal. But I digress. As I am wont to. Surely you know that by now, my friends, do you not? Well, if you do not then straight away I know that you are not a reader, you are not one of us. Correction: you were not one of us. Kindly take the hint. Yes, sport elicits all manner of emotion, converting every playing ground into a veritable cauldron of passions. Consider George Orwell. He of the “big brother is watching” fame but this time writing in Shooting an Elephant: “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard for all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence; in other words it is war minus the shooting.” Emotions yes. Anger over the Champions League exit, yes. Frustration over the cancellation of the England ODI, yes. But punching and kicking the players? Tearing advertising hoardings, uprooting bamboo poles used for scaffoldings, breaking down walls, pelting police with missiles, destroying television cameras? No, no, no. Let our contestants fight it out on the field. It is all fair because that field is level. There are match officials to ensure that it stays so. Sit on the stands at Rufaro, all you supporters of two of the biggest clubs in the Zimbabwe Premiership, Dynamos and Caps United. But sit. Alright, stand when you will as to salute the goal as Dynamos supporters did when their team drew first blood and then as the Caps supporters did when their team equalised. Shout and scream, or what you will, when you feel that the referee is not being fair ‘ but keep to your place on the terrace. You paid for that! Yes, by all means let it be war for the 10 seconds of your race, the 50-overs either side, or the 70 or 90 or whatever minutes of your match. But no shooting! That, for me, is what this thing is all about.

April 2006
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