An Iraqi football fan shot dead a player of the opposing team as he tried to score an equalizing goal in the final minutes of a match last Saturday. The shooting occured in Hilla (100 km south of Baghdad) during a match between local teams.
According to police accounts, as soon as the player, Haider Kadhim, was one-on-one with the goalkeeper and close to scoring the equalizer, a fan in the crowd shot his gun at him. The fan arrested immediately but the player did not survive the shooting.
While this is sad news (and prime material for dark humor; gives ‘he went down like he was shot’ a whole new meaning) and clearly no advert for football being an instrument of peace, the incident needs to be taken in context of the local situation and of the position football holds in different societies across the world.
If there’s one thing football has taught us about social dynamics, it’s that perfectly rational individuals will turn into raving lunatics when put in an highly-charge emotional setting as a group and given a target to unite themselves against. It’s fun, it’s passion, it’s football, it’s madness, but at the end of the day as long you’ve had fun and you’ve channeled your frustrations of the day / week through the fan experience, it’s all good, right?
Now take that dynamic and put that in the middle of a (relatively) unmonitored environment with a much higher degree of stress and a history of violence, and you’re just asking for something to go wrong.
This isn’t specific to Iraq, or typical of the Middle East. You won’t find many incidents of fan violence (let alone shootings) in UAE or Saudi Arabia, for example. It’s part of football all over the world and it really bubbles through when extreme social / cultural / political / economic divides manifest themselves in the guise of football rivalry, even though football has nothing to do with it.
Be it street gangs in Argentina, fighting
on the pitch in the pub in South Korea, chants heard in Glasgow, fans beaten to death in Indonesia, stabbings in Rome, fans attacking players in Turkey or stadium brawls in Serbia, these conflicts are about rational people confusing the escapist illusions of football with real life, and inflicting (and suffering) harsh consequences as a result.
Also See: Major Football Rivalries