Community tensions and exile: Lebanese football is not immune to the crisis - Jeune Afrique

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As Lebanon goes through a double economic and political crisis, the country's most popular sport is not spared, and is trying to survive.


Affected by the global Covid-19 epidemic, plagued by social and political tensions accentuated by the deadly explosion of the port of Beirut on August 4, Lebanon lives a particularly complicated period in its already chaotic history. Many Lebanese, tired by the endemic corruption of the ruling elites and pessimistic about the future of the country, now consider exile rather than an impoverishment that seems inevitable for the middle classes.

Like all components of Lebanese society, football is directly affected by this climate. “Economically, it's very complicated. There is money in Lebanon, but there is no real economic model. The clubs live mainly thanks to the financial capacity of their president, who will inject liquidity almost with lost funds. And often, these presidents decide to leave their chair, leaving the clubs in difficulty ”, explains Wissam Khalil, former player of Sagesse FC and current assistant coach.

Decreased income

Budgets depend for the most part on a president and his relatives, but much less on transfers, TV rights and stadium revenues, which often ring hollow. “Transfers bring little profit, and in Lebanon, some players are linked for life to a club, which limits transactions. While the king of sports is very popular in Lebanon, he fails to anchor himself in professionalism, with very rare exceptions.

Of course, some players manage to make a very good living. Thus, Hassan Matouk, the captain of the national team, would appear at 18 euros per month, when for most Lebanese footballers, average salaries range from 000 to 700 euros per month. This forces them to combine their activity as a player with another job. Foreigners - often sub-Saharan Africans - could for their part hope before the health crisis to obtain average wages.

Since the start of the health crisis, almost all foreign players have left the country

Since the beginning of the health crisis, they have almost all left the country, the clubs having decided to save money, despite emergency aid (around 40 euros per club) released by the federation so that the championship can resume beginning of October. And Lebanese players, forced to accept a drop in their income, are also tempted by exile, especially in Southeast Asia and Qatar.

As in many African countries, Lebanese football does not lack talent, but suffers from its shortcomings in the field of youth training, a project abandoned by the clubs to more or less serious academies. Lebanon, devastated by a long civil war (1975-1990), which claimed between 130 and 000 civilians, had organized the Asian Cup of Nations in 250, but many stadiums are outdated and uncomfortable.

With the crisis, more and more Lebanese footballers are considering going to play in the Gulf countries.

With the crisis, more and more Lebanese footballers are considering going to play in the Gulf countries. © AFP

Denominational clubs

And in this “complicated country”, as the English journalist David Hirst sums it up in his reference work “A History of Lebanon”, the denominational weight remains immense. Lebanese clubs are thus for the most part linked to a specific community.

Thus, Safa's supporters are Druze, Homenetmen's supporters are members of the Armenian community, Al-Ansar and Ejtimeh are supported by the Sunnis, Maronite Christians are close to Sagesse FC, and Al-Ahed - Cup winner. Asian Confederation in 2019 - is billed as the unofficial club of Shia Hezbollah. The Islamist party bought the Beirut team in 1985. Today, Hezbollah no longer finances it, at least officially, but given the club's relative good financial health compared to others, the question inevitably arises.

Ideologically, many Al-Ahed leaders are known for their pro-Hezbollah positions

"Ideologically, many leaders of Al-Ahed are known for their pro-Hezbollah positions," blows a local source. Football in Lebanon is a political tool almost like any other.

Rafik Hariri, for many years, signed checks to ensure the proper functioning of Al-Ansar. Money not always well used, but the billionaire could thus count on the voices of the supporters of one of the most popular clubs in the country in the polling stations. In Lebanon, clientelism is never very far away ...

Political instrumentalisation

In this context of political instrumentalization, some league matches generate tension. Like those who pit Al-Ansar against Al-Ahed, in Beirut. The former is known to be the club dear to the Hariri family. Rafic Hariri, the former prime minister, was funding it. Since his death in 2005 attributed by some of these supporters to the Shiite party, his son Saad has taken over.

“When the two teams go head to head, Al-Ahed supporters are not really welcome at Al-Ansar stadium. And the converse is true. And it's the same when Al-Ahed goes to Saida, a predominantly Sunni city, ”the source continues.

The French Richard Tardy, ex-national coach (2002-2003) and coach of Al-Ansar (2014-2015) could see it. “There is a sporting rivalry, but also a political and religious one. Each club seems linked to a political party, to a community, and that is why certain tensions can arise between supporters, in the stands or outside. "

Thus, in 2016, Nejmeh, known for his muti-confessional inclination, refused to confront Al-Ahed. More seriously, nine years earlier, players and supporters of Nejmeh, Al-Ahed and Al-Ansar had clashed in the heart of downtown Beirut, students of the Arab University meddling in the incidents, giving this dark evening the name of "Black Thursday." "

This article appeared first on https://www.jeuneafrique.com/1053764/societe/tensions-communautaires-et-exil-le-football-libanais-nechappe-pas-a-la-crise/?utm_source=jeuneafrique&utm_medium= flux-rss & utm_campaign = flux-rss-young-africa-15-05-2018

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