In Algeria, a football team films their bus getting attacked
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Algeria’s football stadiums are known for recurrent scenes of violence. Not a week goes by without a match ending with supporters swarming the pitch, or a fight between fans. The tension rises in particular as the season draws to its close, when the stakes rise as clubs play for their place in the premier league. On Friday May 11, players for the club Chabab Ahly Bordj Bou Arreridj (CABBA) were attacked when they were in the town of Aïn M’lila for the 29th day of the league 2. Players filmed the whole scene from inside the bus.
The match was actually meant to take place without an audience. This is because two weeks before, the local club, AS Aïn M'lila, was sanctioned and obliged to play two matches without supporters after “projectiles were thrown from the terraces”. That didn’t stop CABBA being the target of more violence while they tried to get to the stadium. As their team bus entered the town, and despite the fact that they had a police escort, young people on motorbikes tried to block the road in front of their bus.
In the video, we can see young people running alongside the bus and spitting at it, swearing and gesticulating at the players inside. Police armed with batons try to keep the young people at a safe distance from the bus, but only half-heartedly. At one point, you can hear the sound of a window smashing.
As the bus gets closer to the stadium, there’s a fresh wave of projectiles and insults hurled at the vehicle. Then, as the stadium comes into view, one can see a crowd of supporters for the opposing team thronged behind police barriers, waiting for the players.
From inside the bus, the players use their mobile phones to film the smashed windows and the chaotic scenes outside. Police tell the bus driver to drive into the stadium, but the players protest: “We won’t leave the bus, we’re not going to play the match!” One of the players’ hands is slightly injured.
In the end, the players did go ahead and play the match, and they lost 0-2. As a result, AS Aïn M’lia was able to move up into the premier league.
"The police let the supporters do whatever they wanted, to avoid even more violence"
For Algerian sociologist Nacer Djabi, this outburst of violence, met with passivity from police officers, is not at all surprising.
There are several reasons for this recent rise in tension. First of all, it was an important match: the two opposing teams are from towns in the same north-east region, and a lot was at stake – the winning team would cement their place in the premier league. The coach of CABBA is originally from Aïn M’lila, but he received so much pressure from supporters that he was forced to resign a few days before the match.
Football matches aren’t as volatile in big cities like Algiers. It’s in smaller and medium towns that it gets a lot more tense. In these towns, there’s less to do, more unemployment and the locals feel very strongly about their team. When important matches like this come up, it’s not only the supporters who get involved, but practically the whole local population.
So during the match between Aïn M’lila and CABBA, the whole town united to try to make CABBA lose. Anything goes – anything that will intimidate the other side. The police didn’t control the situation at all. They let the supporters do whatever they wanted, and were totally overwhelmed in the moment. They obviously preferred doing that because they didn’t want to have to try to confront an entire town. If they had done so, they would have provoked even worse violence.
On April 13, more than 100 people were injured in clashes between supporters of the club JS Kabylie (JSK) and Mouloudia d’Alger (MCA), during the semi-final of the Algeria Cup. The day after, the Minister of the Interior announced that they were looking into measures to “put an end” this recurrent violence. But Djabi is sceptical.
After all of the violence that happened in April, the Minister for Religious Affairs announced that some imams would start going into stadiums to give advice to supporters. A few months ago, they also suggested that imams preach against illegal immigration. But imams can’t be expected to get involved on every topic, to solve every problem. It doesn’t make any sense.
"The authorities don’t have any serious solution to offer young people”
This proves that the way that politics and sport are managed in Algeria is failing, and that the authorities don’t have any serious solution to offer young people.
For the last 20 years, they have encouraged supporters who have a particular profile: unemployed people, marginalised and inactive people. They’ve turned matches into a way for young people to let off steam, and as a place where they can get rid of their frustrations. It’s also a way to keep them far away from politics and make sure that they don’t question the status quo.
The authorities haven’t done anything to make the stadiums more accessible for families, women or older people. There are often no toilets, no food stands, no areas for families with children etc.
Politicians are now paying for this. The violence has gone too far, and they don’t know what to do now to hold it back.
During the 2017-2018 season, the police said they made 830 arrests, of which 93 were arrested for taking drugs or carrying knives.
In August 2014, Albert Ebossé, a Cameroonian striker in the JSK club, died after being hit with a projectile thrown from the stadium’s terraces.