What is the common factor between football fanaticism and religious fanaticism?

Khaled Montaser

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We are recently witnessing football fanatics turn into an easy prey for extremist religious organizations, and I believe we will be seeing a surge in this trend as these fanatics become the new Trojan horse that these organizations are betting on, on top of which is the Muslim Brotherhood, as it continues to intensify its efforts try to infiltrate important sectors and institutions within the state in an attempt to take over.

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I have recently surfed social media websites in an attempt to analyze the language used by these young extremists and noted how they repeated lines promoted by the Muslim Brotherhood. I found that most of these individuals use pictures of football players or clubs as their profile pictures and they alternate between posting content related to football and religion.

It was unsurprising to me that the prevalent tone in their posts consisted of aggressive slurs and vulgar insults. However, the question here is, what is the common factor between football fanaticism and religious fanaticism, and what makes a football fanatic a prime candidate for violent extremist recruitment?

There are many similarities between these individuals. Just like religious radicals, football fanatics share a herd mentality; they are not in the habit of questioning authority and they blindly and obediently follow the crowd. These individuals are often quick to give justifications and they never admit defeat.

Iraqi football fans cheer as they watch the international friendly football match between Iraq and Syria at Basra Sports City Stadium on March 20, 2019. (AFP)
Iraqi football fans cheer as they watch the international friendly football match between Iraq and Syria at Basra Sports City Stadium on March 20, 2019. (AFP)

They lack basic critical thinking and dialogue skills. Their arguments are mainly weak, irrational, and highly subjective. Objectivity and truth have no place in their rhetoric, and they leave no room for others to present their opposing views.

Such individuals are also known for their unwavering loyalty to their proclaimed idols and they ceaselessly seek their full approval. In their unquestioning reverence of these idols, these fanatics are willing to commit violent acts against supporters of the opposing teams. Many have attempted to justify the violence that was recently committed by sports fans within stadiums by attributing it to a fierce competitive spirit, when in fact this goes against the principle of sportsmanship.

Instead, I would attribute this phenomenon to these individuals’ tendency to feel righteously entitled to achieve victory and they are willing to do whatever it takes to impose it on others even if it takes resorting to verbal and physical violence.

The disputes that we are witnessing all over the media in the sports section on some channels have turned into disgraceful rants not befitting even the most ignorant and dangerous of individuals, let alone those with respectable professions and high-ranking positions who engage in such heated arguments using inappropriate language and insults, all for the sake of supporting some random sports team.

We must remain vigilant of the fact that the phenomenon of ultra-fanaticism, and fighting fire with fire, is suicide, not only for the sports community, but for the future of this country and its youth. It seems that just as we have called for separating religion from politics, we must call for separating sports from politics, because while some would consider this to be harmless, in the end, it only feeds into more intolerance and extremism.

This piece was originally published in, and translated from, Egyptian outlet ElWatan News.

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