I’m not in a position to comment on football (that’s soccer for you emerekans) tactics and strategies, and I wouldn’t like to rehash the (by now beaten to death) history and politics of Algeria-Egypt football matches. But what bothered me when I went over a summary of the last semi final African cup game between the two countries is not only the excessive use of violence by some Algerian players, but the Algerian media attitude towards this violence.
Violence is no new-comer to football, one may accept that occasionally a player short circuits his brain at the heat of the moment. Famous hot shots like Beckam, Zidane, Drogba, Rooney and Ronaldo all had their moments of anger that ended in red cards. In the last Algeria-Egypt game one player (Halliche) could be said to have been red carded wrongly, but the other two were well deserved by Chaouchi and Belhadj. Not only were they well deserved, CAF thinks the referee was rather too lenient on Chaouchi after he head butted him and have started procedures for disciplining him for not being harsh enough.
Surveying the post match Algerian media though, there is something to be said about a weird tendency to view such anger and violence in a favourable light. As in one is being tough defending their “right” and standing up for one’s “honour”. After the day of the match, one popular newspaper carried the main title to the tune of “It’s OK, you’ve shown you were men “, the other carried the title “The champions are returning home”. There is no hint of criticism for the violent conduct whatsoever, and all reports concentrated on the referee’s mistakes. On the contrary, they were rather showing some disguised praise for “standing up” as in this is the proper way to act!. Only a week after a game did any newspaper bother to report that Assad, the former national team player, opined that the team had serious trouble maintaining its discipline.
More troublesome to me is the fact that this view is shared with quite a number of Algerians. In a couple of discussions with fellow Algerian citizens I just couldn’t put across the idea that referee mistakes are no excuse for going ballistic. In both cases I won the argument by stating the Ivorian attitude when their goal was mistakenly outlawed in the last 10 minutes of the extended 120 minutes game. Had it been a mistakenly outlawed Algerian goal in the same situation, I would’ve expected blood to flow.
In the Algeria-Egypt match, Halliche may have been wrongly red carded. Chaouchi though should be punished by the Algerian FAF for headbutting the referee, and I’m more leaning towards also punishing Belhadj. This is not just a matter of nationalism or football pride. The team is being watched by millions of Algerians. It’s an opportunity to send the signal that violence is by no means acceptable at all. Granted we’re proud of having given France the boot by the strength of the arm (and a big helping of diplomacy and political acumen in the actions of the Algerian Government in exile and people like Chanderli in New York), but we’ve got to confess that violence has been our nightmare ever since. We’re barely able to sit down and communicate thoughts and share opinions in a civilised way – most major reforms happened after much blood spilling.
We could do well by following the advice of what Algerians consider the finest human being:
The strong man is not the one who wrestles well but the strong man is the one who controls himself when he is in a fit of rage
as is reported from the prophet Muhammad.