quotes Saudi football fanaticism reaches unimaginable levels

15 May 2024
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Updated 27 May 2024

Saudi football fanaticism reaches unimaginable levels

On April 28 of this year, I witnessed videos of individuals swearing and betting on divorce and shaving their mustaches for a football match, meaning that if their team lost, they would do so. This behavior extends beyond the family and affects their colleagues at work.

A 2022 survey by the Saudi Institute of Public Administration found that 40 percent of Saudis admit their football fanaticism affects their relationships with colleagues, leading to verbal abuse and even physical altercations.

When Al-Ahli of Jeddah was relegated to the first division (Yelo League) that same year, the club’s fan association president reported 11 supporter funerals. In the 2019 Riyadh derby between Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr, 90 medical cases were recorded, ranging from heart attacks to fainting and trampling incidents, with a highly tense atmosphere in the stands.

Both the Visual and Auditory Media Authority and the Sports Media Union are responsible for the heated fanaticism witnessed in Saudi Arabian stadiums and on social media platforms. This includes the excessive behavior exhibited by various parties, including sports journalists, administrators and club players, as well as spectators both inside and outside the stadiums.

A study in 2015 by the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue revealed that 50 percent of Saudi fans attributed their fanaticism to provocations from opposing team supporters, while 26 percent blamed biased media coverage, and 24 percent pointed to biased referees.

Furthermore, 90 percent agreed on the necessity of suspending media professionals who incite fanaticism between sports teams. Interestingly, 8 percent of respondents admitted to avoiding leaving their homes the day after their team loses. The study, which included participants from across the Kingdom aged 16 to 50, surveyed 1,044 individuals of both genders.

Although hooliganism is not common in the Kingdom, many of our sports shows and interviews encourage hooliganism in one way or the other, if not in a direct way, then in a disguised tone. 

The term “hooligan” is often used to describe an individual who engages in violent or disruptive behavior at sporting events. These individuals often harbor deep-seated feelings of persecution and injustice, which they manifest through aggression. 

A tragic example of sporting hooliganism occurred during the 1985 UEFA Champions League final at Heysel Stadium in Brussels, Belgium. The match was between English club Liverpool and Italian club Juventus. Before the match, English fans attacked their Italian counterparts, resulting in the deaths of 39 Italians. The incident led to English clubs being banned from European competitions for five years. These events highlight the destructive potential of sports hooliganism.  

The most appropriate solution is to temporarily or permanently ban aggressive fanatic supporters from attending matches to protect them from the health hazards of fanaticism. Fanaticism is known to elevate emotional tension and heighten heart rate, which can remain elevated for hours after the match.

In critical matches, these levels may even reach critical points, as indicated by a German study published in 2022. In addition to comprehensive stadium surveillance to enforce regulations within the stands, on the sidelines, and on the field, individual perpetrators should be punished, and administrators, players, journalists, and sports programs should face suspension or fines if they contribute to an escalation of fanaticism, especially if it is accompanied by artificially induced excitement or fabricated excuses.

It is also important not to exaggerate the fame of players or to overlook their blatant and egregious mistakes, as this often leads to counterproductive results that do not serve the best interests of the game and its development.

  • Dr. Bader bin Saud is a columnist for Al-Riyadh newspaper, a media and knowledge management researcher, and the former deputy commander of the Special Forces for Hajj and Umrah in Saudi Arabia. X: @BaderbinSaud