Violent flare-ups attached to sports occur every now and then in the United States. There was the brutal beating of a San Francisco Giants fan in April. Less than five months later, there were at least two shootings following an NFL exhibition game. A brawl that started in the stands ended a recent high school basketball game in Baltimore.
We decry such incidents, rightfully so, lamenting the loss of perspective, reason and civility when it comes our games. Cheering for your team and wearing its jersey shouldn't put you at risk of bodily harm –- or worse. We fret over what it says about us and what it teaches our children.
But that's nothing compared to what we've seen in soccer over the years. The "beautiful game," as it's known around the world, has a disturbing habit of producing extremely ugly behavior among spectators. The most recent example occurred this week in Egypt, where nearly 80 people were killed in a riot after a soccer game.
According to news reports, rival fans battled with rocks and chairs and threw stones after the match in Port Said, where the home team pulled off a 3-1 upset against Cairo's Al-Ahly club. Witnesses said that Al-Masry fans stormed the field, many of them carrying knives and sticks, to brawl with supporters of Al-Ahly. A number of fans were crushed and suffocated as they attempted to flee the stadium, only to be blocked in against a locked steel gate.
It was the deadliest incident of soccer violence since Oct. 16, 1996, when at least 78 people died and 180 others were injured in a stampede at a stadium in Guatemala City before a World Cup qualifying match between Guatemala and Costa Rica. But soccer, the world's most popular sport (and called football outside the U.S.), has a long association with mayhem from Europe to South America to Africa. The incidents are among the worst sports disasters on record.
Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, the sport's international governing body, said he was "shocked and saddened" by the deaths in Egypt. "This is a black day for football," he said in a statement. "Such a catastrophic situation is unimaginable and should not happen."
It definitely shouldn't happen. But the only way it's unimaginable is if you haven't been paying attention.