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TUNISIA/IMMIGRATION

Thousands of Tunisian football fans say they will migrate to Italy after their beloved club’s suspension

When a beloved football club from Chebba, Tunisia was suspended from the country’s Premier League in October 2020, protests broke out around the city and its port.
When a beloved football club from Chebba, Tunisia was suspended from the country’s Premier League in October 2020, protests broke out around the city and its port.
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Residents of the Tunisian town of Chebba were beside themselves when the Tunisian Football Federation decided on October 17 to suspend their football club. Some outraged fans actually started organising an effort to collectively migrate to Italy in protest -- and two thousand people added their names to a protest form. The threat is largely symbolic, but may have real consequences, says our Observer.

The tension between the Tunisian Football Federation (FTF) and the Croissant Sportif Chebba (CS Chebba) football club began when the club’s captains complained about what they believed were refereeing errors made during a Tunisian Premier League match in September 2019. 

Club leadership then used the club’s official Facebook page to criticise FTF president Wadii Jarii. The National League of Professional Football found the post insulting and handed CS Chebba a hefty fine of 180,000 Tunisian dinars (roughly equivalent to €55,000).

There was a further escalation in tensions when the FTF made the decision to suspend CS Chebba for the 2020-2021 season, claiming that their paperwork was still incomplete at the final deadline.  

Outraged, CS Chebba mobilised fans to protest the decision. A general strike, with the support of city officials, began on October 19, effectively shutting down this small, coastal town with 30,000 residents. All entrances to the city were blocked for several days. 

Amidst the furore, a local fan club went so far as to call on supporters to collectively embark on the perilous (and illegal) migration route to Italy in protest. They set up a tent near the entrance to the city and drew up a protest form. In total, two thousand people put their names down.

A few players for the club’s youth division put their names on the list on October 29 as shown in this video, which was live streamed on the club’s official Facebook page:

'All of this is meant to put pressure on the Tunisian Football Federation'

Nebrass Heddhili is a Chebba-based journalist for Al-Arab, a daily newspaper. He says that the threat to collectively migrate isn’t serious and is just an attempt to pressure the FTF:

 

Immediately after the club was suspended on October 17, people gathered in front of city hall to protest what they saw as an injustice. It was during this protest that a committee to coordinate the club’s supporters was formed, made up of several employees of the club and supporters with close links to the CS Chebba club president Taoufik Mkacher. On October 18, protesters blocked the roads leading into the town, shutting them down for about 10 days. 

Soon after, the committee to coordinate club fans set up tents near the port to sign up people interested in joining the group migration effort. Several wealthy individuals and boat owners even offered up around 15 boats to ferry the migrants to Italy. 

Supporters of the SC Chebba football club set up tents where people can sign up to join a group migration to Italy in protest of their club’s suspension from the Tunisian Football Federation. This photo was taken on the evening of October 25.

 

The committee organising the group migration effort, which is run by members of the committee of club supporters, has been registering the names and the ID card numbers of those interested in migrating. Even so, I don’t think that their aim is to really get these people to migrate illegally. It is just a way of putting pressure on the federation. 

'I am afraid that this initiative will get completely out of hand'

 

Even though the committee claims otherwise, most Chebba residents are aware that this isn’t a serious initiative. But I am afraid that this initiative will get completely out of the hands of the organising committee, because people from nearby towns and villages, who see this initiative as a glimmer of hope for leaving the country, have started coming and signing up. The local police ended up sweeping the area and forcing out the people who don’t live in Chebba.  I hope there won’t be riots when people who believe this initiative is real see their hopes vanish. 

This escalation in tensions between CS Chebba and the FTF has even taken a political turn. Tunisia’s most powerful union, the Tunisian General Union for Work (UGTT), released a statement expressing fears over the possible social and security consequences caused by the suspension.

Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi also responded to the debate, declaring that "everyone knows that we can’t interfere with decisions made within the realm of sports but there are legal routes where the FTF’s decisions can be contested".

This article was written by Omar Tiss.

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