The February 1 2012 soccer riot in Egypt left more than 70 people dead and 1,000 injured. The riot took place in Port Said, after fans of rival soccer teams rushed the field, hurling stones and sticks at each other and sparking a stampede. The riot was the worst case of soccer violence in Egypt’s history.
Canada has had its own share of sport riots, most recently a hockey riot in Vancouver in June of 2011. The riot began after the Vancouver Canucks’ lost the Stanley Cup final to the Boston Bruins. Cars were burned, shop fronts were destroyed, and people very beaten. Over 100 people have been charged to date. The cost to the city is about 1.3 million dollars in damages. The city called for a inquiry into the riot and why it began.
These two recent incidents are part of a long history of sport related riots. In the ancient world, chariot races were popular spectacles with thousands attending the events. Fans would become personally invested in one team and would form gangs to attack the rival team’s supporters. The most well known riot was the Nika Riot in Constantinople in 532 CE. Fans supported four different factions, but the Green and the Blue teams were the most politically active and tried to influence the Byzantium government. Members of these two factions were to be hanged for murder but had escaped. The Emperor Justinian ordered their death, but the two gangs demanded full pardons. When their demands were not met, they set the city ablaze.
At the same time another chariot race was going on at the Hippodrome, organized by the green and blues to raise support for overthrowing the emperor. People began to shout ‘Nika’ meaning victory or conquer in Greek. But Justinian ordered the army to stop the riots. The rioters were trapped inside the Hippodrome and it is estimated between 10,000 and 30,000 people were killed.
Despite the Nika Riots, violence at sporting events was very rare for centuries. Occasional incidents would occur but without the political goals and level of extreme violence. The Cricket Riot of 1879 occurred when a team of English cricketers played a series of matches against the home team in New South Wales, Australia. The English referee called out a local hero, which incensed the 2,000 fans who ran out onto the pitch and began attacking the English team and the refs. The game was cancelled but resumed the next day.
In the 20th century, the fan violence increased greatly, with countless deaths as a result. One of the worst riots in modern history was the May 24 1964 soccer riot in Lima, Peru. Peru and Argentina played an Olympic qualifying match at the National Stadium. A great deal of rivalry existed between the two teams and the Peruvians were desperate for a win. The referee disallowed a Peruvian goal in the final two minutes of the game and they lost. The crowd went wild with people panicking to get away from the violence. It caused a stampede which killed 318 people and injured 500.