Violent scenes outside stadiums can only torpedo the popularity and success of the Thai game
When “teams lose but fans don’t” – a euphemism for sporting violence – the real loser is everybody. Hooliganism has cast a dark spell on Thai football in recent years and it reared its ugly head again over the weekend when rival fans clashed outside the SCG Stadium in Bangkok. The fighting left four people injured and took hours to quell. It also left the reputation of Thailand’s top football league scarred. Pressure is now mounting for efforts to prevent a recurrence.
The “beautiful game” turned ugly on Saturday when visiting Singhtarua fans sought vengeance after Muangthong United rallied to secure a 3-1 victory over their team. Bottles were thrown and gunfire heard in an incident that police are still investigating.
The effect of such incidents is damaging to the game in general, discouraging parents with children from attending matches and raising the spectre of stadiums filled with thugs and troublemakers. Without supporters from across the whole social spectrum, it is difficult to see how Thai football can increase in popularity.
Demands for action first fell on the Football Association, but, with only two rounds of matches left before the season ends, it deferred a decision. And indeed, the timing of the disciplinary panel’s verdict might not matter much when what is really needed from the FA is long-term measures to prevent hooliganism taking root in the country’s favourite sport.
It will be an arduous task and there are no quick fixes. Two months ago FA president Worrawi Makudi came up with a bizarre rule that a match can be abandoned if anyone shouts “kee kong” (“cheat”) – or the similar-sounding “kee mong” (“what time is it?”). Ridiculous as it might seem, the authorities believe such phrases are a major factor in instigating the violence.
Seeking solutions without addressing the root causes will not bring an end to violence at matches. The FA’s ban on shouting provocative words hasn’t worked – it was more like applying a sticking plaster to a gaping wound, judging by recent incidents.
First things first: the refereeing must be fair. Take away the controversial decisions and fans will be less likely to riot due to a sense of injustice. Separate seating areas and exits for home and away fans are also important. And, at the final whistle, fans must be guided to the proper exits to avoid clashes.
Another weapon in the authorities’ armoury is strict and systematic penalties for clubs and fans over hooliganism. The FA could draw on standards applied in many other countries, where teams whose fans engage in mass brawls are fined and ordered to play matches behind closed doors, while the roughnecks are often banned for life from the stadium.
Such measures would pressure every Thai football club to ensure its fans behave. Yet applying them would also require a level of effort and financial resources out of reach of the smaller clubs that can’t afford armies of security staff and banks of short-circuit cameras. These are the matters that the governing body must discuss in a push for blanket safety standards.
The battle against hooliganism needs input from all parties, with clubs, players and supporters all taking a share of the responsibility. Former Sweden international Henrik Larsson delivered a warning recently after a fan from his hometown was killed during a clash between rival supporters in March: “Whose responsibility is it? Is it the clubs’? Is it the supporters’? Or should society take it? It’s time for someone to start waking up, because I don’t want it in Swedish football or in any football.”
Now it’s Thailand’s turn to ask the same questions. Unless we all take responsibility, violence in Thai football will be here to stay.