Therefore, stringent rules and regulations must be put in place to curb hooliganism in this championship that is followed by young and old, men and women; the governed and governors. The key words or phrase is that, these ugly behaviors of so-called football lovers have no room in Gambian football; surely not a time when the football federation is fighting tooth and nail to attract sponsors to the game. Even though common sense tells us that unruly behavior is not accepted in any society, we must make sure we put up mechanisms to avert such acts and prescribe punishments that are heavy to serve as a deterrent to would be offenders. That way, the unruly behaviours of individuals or groups in these often packed matches can be minimised if not eradicated at all.
The Super Nawettan, also called Zonal championship is perhaps the only football tournament where people show commitment to their zones with passion, interest and an unquenchable desire for their zones to win. Even where one’s zone is not competing, one’s allegiance is swayed to your neighbour. Passionate fans follow their zones to anywhere they go for a match, players show total commitment and determination for their zones.
The level of support is always electric as most zones parade troops of supporters drumming, singing and dancing thus making the environment euphoric. The electric support coming from the fans who surround the four corners of the stadia ginger the footballers to put up their best possible performances. Journalists from both print and electronic media and sometimes bloggers trip to venues not only or report but to support their zones “si-pet” meaning in secret. Journalists who could not control their emotions are sometimes spotted jumping in jubilation when their zonal teams create chances or score while you can read total agony from some journalists when their zones lose or the referee falter against their zones. Such attitude leaves football officials and spectators pointing fingers to the men of the microphone and pen; labeling them as partisans and not men and women on duty.
It is not only journalists who are accuses of taking sides when on duty but even organisers are sometimes emotionally charged to an extent they tend to take sides. But pardon me not to go too far on that before I trample on some legs but let me flag that at the bottom of this piece I will take the meek of some people I think should not take sides. Anyway, it is good to note that upcoming coaches are mostly employed to take charge of their respective zones. But what is certain mostly is seeing senior coaches standing behind their zone’s technical bench pointing out the weaknesses of their opponents. Sometimes they are even tempted to send text messages to the technical bench. When things aren’t working well for their sides, they stormed the dressing room of their zones during the break to give some advice
Looking at these above examples of how connected and involved people are to this footy tournament, there must care in the selection of referees who officiate these football matches because these referees are from these zones. I am without doubt that even if the organising committee brings the world’s most outstanding referees to officiate these matches, you will still hear queries like ‘this referee isn’t good’. My point here is the referees selected must know that their integrity as referees is at stake and they must live up to expectation. This is the more reason why many people argue that the Gambia Football Referees’ Association need to orient these referees as to the issues at stake and how important it is for them to maintain their integrity and adjudicate fairly. The men in black now appearing in multi-colours are always in the center of things and are not only under pressure from the players, coaches, fans but also from officials of the respective zones. Here is a scenario that all must consider; your team strikers might squander five goal line chances and be pardoned by his fellow players, coaches, fans and officials but will clinched on the single mistake of the referee to create an unnecessary problem. My plea to everyone is leave the referees alone because they are human and are liable to err.
One area that also needs to be improved to curb crowd trouble is to host teams in neutral venues. For instance if Banjul should take on Serekunda West, what is wrong in having them play at the Serekunda East Mini Stadium to make sure one team is not given an outright advantage hence there is nothing like home and away matches because zones like Gunjur, Sukuta, Lamin, Bakau, BEM, Serekunda Central and Brufut do not have playable fields to host these footy matches. Because people follow their zones to these match venue, organizers must be safety conscious first before considering the monetary gains as always argued.
Hence members of the organising committee of the zonal championship are representatives of the competing zones, why can’t they spend time sensitising their supporters on the no violence slogan. It is embarrassing for a zone to be branded the trouble-maker and I can authoritatively state that few zones have already been branded like that. So, whether they start the trouble or not, once their zone is playing, and a problem erupts, all fingers will be pointing at them. I am aware that most zones have fans clubs who are very well informed and does not involved in trouble. The problem is with those who are carried along when people are moving to these ground. In fact some people will argue that those brought-along fans are the ones who cause trouble. But I have also observed that sometimes the problem usually starts from the coaches or those on the technical bench. Imagine when my coach is jumping in disagreement to everything that the referee blows, how will his players and fans react? The coaches and their assistance must be role models and lead by example.
The media can play a very important role in curbing crowd trouble in our football by engaging the members of the organizing committee to continue calling for a violence free tourney. In fact it is my view that the organizing committee members should take this initiative to roll out a no violence campaign which should be continuous on the print and electronic media. I am impressed with City Limits Radio sports crew who initiated a no violence campaign by capturing zonal heads, coaches and captains to make a no violence declaration.
Picked from their page, they wrote “Team Mega Sports Bite on City Limits Radio have started a media campaign to sensitize the general public through the various stakeholders on the need to have a trouble free Super Nawettan this year. We will use zonal representatives to make a declaration. Not only will we use zonal reps but we will use the coaches and team captains to say something like this; “I Mr X, the president of Brufut and a member of Zonal committee is urging all fans of Brufut to come out in numbers to support Brufut but without violence because violence has no room in our football.”
My team and I on Mega Sports Bite will use these audio clips of these key stakeholders on our programmes to remind our listeners on the need to having a trouble-free zonal championship. In as much as the media is expected to continue calling for a trouble-free tournament, the organizing committee should utilize the media as an authorized body to run this tournament to remind people. Maybe they can as well copy the City Limits Radio no violence campaign and send them to all media houses.
No matter how much sensitisation is done, the organising committee must not rest on their laurels. They must provide security and security must be adequate. Providing enough security is always a challenge but we must consider the number of people who troop to these matches. But again the little security that is available must crowd watch and not watch football. What I know about securities that are taken to sporting event is that they must watch the crowd to spot out the trouble makers. When this professional body does not fix their eyes on the crowd, some cheeky and unruly fans within the crowd could start their misbehaviour. It is easy to weed out the unruly fans within the crowd if eyes are fixed on them. The OC must not only be concerned with the security of the referees and players in the pitch but even the fans. This is why I urge them to sensitize the security to watch the crowd and not the match.
If the above mechanisms are put in place, the organising committee should above all have stringent rules and regulations that will force zones to take responsible of the behaviours of their fans. I must say that the previous zonal committees have not been consistent; they have not been working as a team and put favoritism above honesty. Take for example last year when the tournament turned violent. Some members were saying this and others saying that. For some zonal heads they were busy defending their zones to the detriment of the country while others were scared of speaking the truth. I am with the belief that once you reach that level, Gambia must be first and zones should be secondary. In as much as we must advice, fans, players, coaches, fans and referees to comport themselves, organisers must seem to be honest and ready to strike where there is need to strike. If people see lapses in the way organisers carryout their judgment, this could lead to problems.
In conclusion, I support the planned punishment for offending zones and individuals. Unless harsh punishments are meted out to offenders, hooliganism might remain in our game which can kick sponsors away. Earlier it was stated that, any zone that brings zonal matches into a halt, will be suspended for five year and will not be allow to even organise Nawettan in your zone. In my view that punishment is good and should be adhered to. In the case of individual offenders, we must just hand them over to the police to deal with them.
It’s your game, our country our world so let’s keep talking. May the luckiest team win because all teams are good.
Sang Mendy is a journalism teaching assistant, GPU School of Journalism and a journalism student at the School of Journalism, University of The Gambia.]]>