04/06/2018 - 15:00

Algeria football stadiums, violent outlets for frustrated youth

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Football stadiums across Algeria have turned into venues of almost weekly clashes, reflecting what commentators see as the frustrations of young Algerians faced with bleak prospects.

Violence peaked in 2014 with the death of Albert Ebosse, a Cameroon striker with Algeria’s JS Kabylie, who was killed on the field by a projectile thrown from the stands.

But sanctions and fair play campaigns have since failed to quell the phenomenon.

This season’s matches — both professional and amateur — have been regularly interrupted by pitch invasions, clashes between young fans and police, and attacks on referees.

Club suspensions and bans on spectators have changed little.

Last December, clashes between rival fans at an amateur derby in eastern Algeria left one person dead.

In mid-April, more than 100 people were injured in clashes at an Algeria Cup semi-final, pushing the interior ministry to set up a commission of inquiry, determined to “put an end” to the violence.

– ‘Only free spaces’ –

Sociologist Noureddine Bekkis said the unrest in Algeria’s stadiums is “proportional to the level of frustration in society”.

The university professor criticised a lack of “strong institutions” to guide young people in a country where more than half the population is under the age of 30.

“The stadium was and remains one of the only free spaces… where one can express the truth of the social reality,” he said.

Nearly a quarter of the workforce under 30 are unemployed in Algeria, where political life is monolithic, taboos rife and distractions rare.

“Young people go to the stadium with a rage fuelled by a feeling of inability to express themselves, of powerlessness to shape their future,” said Bekkis.

Inside the stadiums, dilapidated facilities and poor organisation keep youth frustrations at a boil.

“Some stands have no seats, others don’t even have a toilet,” said Aberahamane, a 17-year-old fan.

Fans regularly arrive at stadiums several hours before the match begins, often using the time to rile each other up.

“The slightest mistake by a referee, the lack of a goal, or the behaviour of a fan of the opposing team can make them explode,” said Aberahamane.

For the cup semi-finals last month, fans eager to secure the best seats started to arrive nearly nine hours before kick-off.

Algeria’s professional football body regularly accuses clubs of providing poor organisation, security and facilities, said Amar Bahloul, a member of its executive board.

– ‘Security gaps’ –

Bahloul said he wants stadiums to be equipped with surveillance cameras “to identify troublemakers… and prevent them from entering”, like in some European countries.

The interior ministry’s investigation will home in on “security gaps” that allowed fans to smuggle fireworks and knives into the semi-finals, a police source said.

Searches at stadium entrances yield few results, however, as weapons are often already hidden inside by employees linked to the home club or its fans, according to a second police source.

Former Algerian football star Mahmoud Guendouz, who played in the 1982 and 1986 World Cups, called on clubs to talk to their fans.

“Club leaders have to involve the fans,” he said. “Don’t sell them fantasies so that disappointment doesn’t turn into violence.”

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