EMOTIONS are still running high following the Highlanders versus Dynamos football encounter crowd trouble in Bulawayo last weekend. Debate is important, but I am afraid out of all this noise one thing is certain: unless proactive educational and stern measures are taken, we have not seen the last of this.
Sports Panorama with Enock Muchinjo
Hooliganism in this fixture is a historic problem that different past football authorities in this country dismally failed to address. Each time after it has happened, people buried their heads in the sand and went back to business as usual; as they awaited another heated contests on the pitch, and, potentially, other ugly clashes — literally in a warzone where fans would be exposed to the dire consequences of mob violence.
While some action was taken in each instance, it was just symbolic, nothing more than tinkering and hoping one day it will go away on its own. No one has so far been prepared to confront this ugly phenomenon head-on. Hence, we are still paying the price to this day.
Highlanders and Dynamos are not the only culprits when it comes to football hooliganism, but certainly the biggest, especially if they are playing each other.
Being the two biggest clubs in Zimbabwe, any encounter between them is always a heated affair. The two clubs always want to outdo each other and that is good for football because it brings the best out of them. However, in the heat of the moment their supporters sometimes lose it and engage in hooliganism. Instead of dealing with such violence decisively, football authorities have failed to address and eradicate the problem.
For us to address this issue we must first understand that it is not only a matter of rivalry between the two local football grants to win games and establish dominance. We also need a sociological diagnosis of football hooliganism as a world phenomenon and then tackle it in our own domestic context.
We need to interrogate the behaviour of hooligans, locate them in our overall social structure, especially class and background, and examine the dynamics of the relationship between them and other groups in wider society. Of course, it is unlikely that this problem will be found always and everywhere to stem from similar social roots, hence local context is crucial.
What is most important, however, is that the great social invention — football — has to be protected from the serious threat posed by a combination of unprofessionalism, bad refereeing, incompetent football authorities and violent mobs who forget that if we do not uproot hooliganism, that will ultimately destroy the game.
There are many strategies — ranging from legislation, policing, prosecution and monitoring — which can be applied to curb football violence. But first of all, we must be clear what happened at Barbourfields Stadium is totally unacceptable.
Highlanders must take full responsibility for their fans’ undesirable conduct. It doesn’t matter whether the referee was right or wrong; hooliganism is wrong and objectionable in football.
The trouble is that this is not the first time it has happened and certainly it won’t be the last.
The club and its fans must be held to account; that is not to say bad refereeing — if it applied on this occasion — must be tolerated. Bad refereeing must be condemned, but there is simply no room for violence in football. It has got to stop; it must and can be stopped. This message applies as much to Highlanders, as to other clubs. But Highlanders need to stop violence which is eroding its great history, brand and sponsorship prospects.
Bosso is the oldest club in the country, which prides itself with not just numerous medals and associated prestige, but also producing maybe the two best footballers this country has ever had — Bruce Grobbelaar and Peter Ndlovu — and must thus lead by example. Highlanders also say they have royal roots (they were formed by Ndebele King Lobengula’s grandsons) and given their history and profile they must embody values of inclusivity, diversity, tolerance, sportsmanship and professionalism — ubuntu in other words — not just in football but also in society. Their leaders and fans must surely appreciate this.
Football administrators should not just apply the British philosophy of taking reactive measures like deploying stewards, fines, playing in empty stadia or arrests, but should consider what German, Belgian and Dutch authorities are doing.
In England, the authorities mainly rely on reactive measures; intensive policing of football fans, sophisticated surveillance and legislation, but in these other European countries they also have “fans coaching” programmes to raise awareness and educate supporters on the culture, rules and professionalism in the game. These proactive measures eventually shape and influence fans’ behaviour, especially showing great sportsmanship, maturity and humility both in victory and defeat.
Indeed, strategies based on monitoring, technology and penalties are important, yet educational programmes and activities, which take into account the history and social dynamics of football hooliganism, are even more critical to address the problem.