Lebanon's football madness
Poor Lebanon, football-mad but without anybody to cheer for in the FIFA world cup. The country just started allowing supporters to physically attend some of its own domestic football matches again after years of a total ban because of fears that this might set off sectarian and political tensions. When political rivals earlier this year played a 'unity' match in the spirit of reconciliation, it was done in a near empty stadium. So, it's own football credentials clearly not being up to scratch, the Lebanese have plumped for completely bonkers, over the top, in your face, maniacal support for some of the big teams. As usual, Brazil was favourite, for reasons that I shall go into later. Netherlands, a perennial under-performer was virtually without support in Beirut, until right after it beat the Brazilians and cars sporting Dutch flags started driving around the city.
OK, so for those who think that the picture (from totalfootbal.ru) is a bit much, it does illustrate that the Netherlands should not be without its attractions for young, hormone-filled Lebanese football supporters. And that's what they mostly seem to be, with a sprinkling of almost body-painted female accomplices. The way that many Lebanese follow the matches and celebrate the victories of their favourite foreign teams beggars believe, especially, just to repeat it, because these are foreign teams that we're talking about. Matches involving Germany, Brazil, Argentina and others are accompanied by vollies of gunfire into the air, fireworks and hordes in honking cars driving around waving flags. Any victory for Germany can mean disruptions deep into the night. So, what drives the Lebanese to support these teams with such fervor? One argument that I have heard is that it offers a rare way to bond and party, across sectarian and political dividing lines. Many simply pick what they regard the strongest team and hope to ride the euphoria all the way to the finals. And many Lebanese have family connections, especially in South America. But that may only be a partial answer and there may be an explanation more in line with Dominique Moisi's piece on football, from Les Bleus to the blues, that presents football as a reflection of a country's emotional state. Especially during the European championship, two years ago, sectarian and political elements did seem to influence at least some of the supporters. Christian Beirutis seemed slightly more in favour of the old protectors France and Italy, Shia in the southern suburbs appeared more enamoured of Germany while in the old left-wing redoubt of Hamra a nostalgic preference for Russia could be detected. Thus it seems that rather than uniting the country, football support may be just another way of asserting the same old sectarian and political differences that still simmer below the surface.