July 9, 2014 By Ayoob Rahman

Algeria and the Politics of the Spectator


Algerian national football team

While I write this note, FIFA 2014 witnessed a fantastic jolt with Germany in the first semi-final dealing a humiliating drubbing to the host Brazil by 7-1. Before the first semi-final the equations had been evenly-poised: Argentina and Brazil, the two fossilized teams from Latin America along with Germany and Netherlands, two European giants.

More than being the world’s most popular sport, football always keeps something in store for politics. In the midst of widespread protests in Brazil, where poverty is a glaring factor football becomes the lifeline for many Brazilians.  The present edition of world cup was special as it triggered for massive anti-colonial and anti-racist discussions and narratives. The emergence of minnows like Algeria, Costa Rica, Ghana and Iran into the centre stage of the world’s biggest sporting event was mind-blowing. In almost all editions of the tournament, the underdogs have always threatened the supremacy of the footballing powerhouses with their excellent displays. Had there been no favoritism of the referees and the football governing body many unfamiliar sides would have been in the last stages of the world cup.

Iran produced an exhilarating performance against the hot cup favorites Argentina in their group stage match only to be dismissed by a late winner by the none other than Lionel Messi. Costa Rica defeated and eliminated big names like England and Italy and advanced to the round of sixteen as the group champions.

An Algeria fan waves a bank note to show his disgust at West Germany's 1-0 win against Austria in the 1982 World Cup.

An Algeria fan waves a bank note to show his disgust at West Germany’s 1-0 win against Austria in the 1982 World Cup.

Among all the competing sides, Algeria was a joy to watch. They attracted legions of fans all over the globe with their solid performance against  Germany the potential world champion. Germans survived an epic scare created by the Fennecs and salvaged with a 2-1 victory in the last minutes of the extra time. Algerian players, all of them Muslims, became news as they went to the match fasting in the killing heat of Porto Alegre with a whole host of bitter memories. The match was surrounded with the news and commemorative columns regarding the infamous ‘Disgrace of Gijon’ where Algeria was eliminated from the world cup of 1982 in one of the cruelest episodes in the football history. It was the last match in the first round in the world cup held in Spain. West Germany and their neighbours Austria were contesting the last match while in the previous match Algeria and Chile, the other teams in the group played in which Algeria registered a hard fought 3-2 victory. The then European champion West Germany were trialing both Austria and Algeria by two points. The group equation was this: if Germany won by less than two goals’ margin both West Germany and Austria would progress into the next round at the cost of Algeria. Both teams would finally actively involve in a blatant case of match-fixing and get away with a 1-0 victory for Germany. Algeria was dramatically eliminated from the world cup. The world wept for them who were the scapegoats of a grave injustice. During the match spectators became enraged and tried to storm into the pitch. Commentators stopped their commentary to express their protest. Some raised white handkerchiefs to condemn the coward attitude of the Europeans. Actually the players were blind with racism. In the first match of the group Germany were defeated by Algeria. The pre-match press conference was the showdown of hatred and racism towards Arabs represented by Algeria. Germans boasted that they would dedicate their seventh goal in the match for their wives and the eighth goal for their dogs. Even after the self-humiliating performance of Gijon, the Austrians and Germans responded with racist mentality of the Whiteman.

Coming back to the 2014 Germany-Algeria match, even the diehard fans of Germany switched their support to Algeria and roared for the dessert warriors. Each move the made was greeted with applause. Many spectators literally wanted Algeria to take a revenge against Germany. Apparently the Nigeria vs France match, Germany vs Ghana match, Chile vs Spain match and many other matches where the former colonies fought with their colonial masters became battle grounds of fierce debates among the fans. Even the mindless fans have started watching football with a critical approach. Finally one must say that even watching a football match will decide his/her politics.

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