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Thursday, February 2, 2012
Updated: June 19, 1:10 PM ET
Rush to explain, forget soccer violence

By Jeff MacGregor
ESPN.com

For the next few days people everywhere will get the story of the riot in Port Said wrong. How it started. What it means. We'll write passionate editorials and convene well-meant investigations and empanel parliamentary commissions and we'll say it was just soccer. Or only politics. We'll say we can blame the ultras or the police; that it was hooliganism or revanchist counter-revolution; that it was an inevitable part of the birth of democracy in Egypt or the death of democracy in Egypt altogether.

Maybe some of which -- maybe none of which -- will ever prove true. Then we'll rush to forget, to put the worst of that night behind us.

What we know today, right now, is that six dozen dead won't be the end of the accounting. On the front page of every newspaper and sports website on earth this morning are the stories of what we think happened. Find those stories here and here and here and here. The pictures and the videos are chilling.

Egyptian Soccer Fans
Family members and mourners gathered at the Cairo railway station to receive the bodies of fans who died after a game between Al-Masry and Al-Ahly.

At the end of a 3-1 game between Al-Ahly of Cairo and Al-Masry of Port Said, Al-Masry "fans" rushed the field. No one yet knows why -- they'd just won, after all -- or how it was that so many of them had entered the stadium carrying knives and clubs. The police did nothing to stop them. Or were powerless to stop them.

They overran the field and chased the players into the dressing rooms and set upon other fans. Then everyone fought everyone. People were killed outright; people were crushed to death in the tunnel trying to escape.

It may or may not be important to note that the most fanatical core of Al-Ahly fans, those set upon, the ultra, fought against Mubarak's police and his presidential thugs in Tahrir Square last spring.

There was certainly more at work here than just soccer or "soccer violence."

Understand that this confusion of causes is inevitable. Soccer has a long and terrible history of riot and disaster. Some of that history is about failed crowd control or bad architecture or corrupt construction or drunkenness and panic and mob instinct. But much of it is grounded in our deep human need for mindless violence.

In other moments, soccer has been a metaphor and an extension of politics.

So we can count on opportunists and ideologues of every stripe and party running from this as well as running to it. Administrators and team officers will scatter in the wind. Has Al-Masry president Kamel Abu Ali already resigned?

Posrt Said Stadium
The day after the violence, the Port Said Stadium was silent.

And in this tangle of agendas, the whole episode will likely remain as black and indecipherable as nightmare.

Violence, like love or hate, is a constant in human experience. Even the word "ultra" as used to describe a subset of the most fanatical fans has a weird literary resonance for those who remember "A Clockwork Orange," and its notion of a future filled with dispassionate, unmotivated "ultra-violence."

Even as we're told the world is growing safer, our fears tell us otherwise. So we'll get this story mostly wrong for a while, the causes and the consequences and the numbers, no matter the evidence. Then we'll push it away entirely. Forget it. Consign it to the future's list of unremembered tragedy.

Because political or not, revolutionary or not, it remains impossible for us to understand the violence we bring down on one another.

"This is not football," said Al-Ahly midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika in the aftermath. "This is a war and people are dying in front of us."

Jeff MacGregor is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. You can email him at jeff_macgregor@hotmail.com, or follow his Twitter.com feed @MacGregorESPN.

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