Political rivalry overshadows Amman’s derby
By Nasry Esmat and Malene Rykær
Young Jordanian soccer fans hanging out by a football court in Amman.
Samer Basem had been a loyal supporter of the Jordanian football club Faisaly for several years when he decided to throw his favourite team’s shirt away.
He was in his first year in the university when he started supporting Wehdat football club instead – the arch rival of Faisaly. The reason was clear.
“You are Palestinian. Don’t sit with us” said one of Samer Basem’s colleagues in the university in his first early lectures in 2003.
Samer Basem who now works as a journalist and is member of Jordan’s leftist democratic party considers his first year at the university as a time of “change” in his life. Here he discovered that he is not accepted by some people because of his Palestinian origin even though he is born and raised in Jordan and has a Jordanian passport.
“I support Wehdat because I want to support the Palestinian right to regain our occupied land and to tease those who hate me for my origin,” Samer Basem tells the EMAJ team.
Samer Basem is just one of thousands who support the Wehdat club for political reasons. It is well known in Jordan that Wehdat was named after one the Jordans’s biggest Palestinian camps. On the other hand just as many Jordanians support Faisaly to emphasize their heritage as natives of the country for hundreds of years.
The tensions between Jordan’s biggest clubs peeked when their supporters on both sides exchanged hostile chants in their last game in the local league. An act which resulted in The Jordanian Football Federation banning any supporters from attending the crucial game in the local cup for the first time in thirty years, describing the hostile chants as “imposing a threat to the national unity of Jordan”.
Thus the rare situation of only empty seats at such an important game it has become an important weapon against hostility for the federation.
“The decision was made too late. But we are ready to do it again. Only now the supporters can understand that they are harming their favourite teams by their irresponsible acts,” says Ayman Haroun, manager of the competition department of the Jordanian Football Federation, to the EMAJ team.
According to Haroun cheering for a football team is and should be the only about the game.
“The two team’s supporters don’t understand the meaning of sports competition, they try to politicize the game and they try to steam negative ideas in the game.”
Extra police reinforcement
The hatred is obvious even to the outsider. Chants as: “We are here and you are there, just hit them Sharon” is being yelled from the Faisaly audience at the stadium referring to the conflict between Palestine and Israel.
“Faisaly supporters repeat hostile chants that hurts our dignity and that is one of the reasons to the struggle,” says Amer Osman, an 18 year old Wihdat supporter resting under a tree next to a paved soccer field in Amman’s sports city.
Meanwhile Wihdat supporters can’t be so hostile in their chants because they might find themselves attacking Jordanian national icons.
On the other side Faisaly supporters feels that their rivals are causing the problem.
“Fans of Wihdat support any other team playing against Faisaly even if we are playing against other nations in the Asian Cup or in the Arab Champions League. They definitely hate us,” says Tarek El Hayek a 17 year old Al Faisaly supporter.
Amman’s police forces raise their preparations to the derby game between both teams by closing most of the streets in the direction of Amman’s international stadium before and after the match.
“On the day of the game both supporters go to the stadium at 9 O’clock in the morning in cars covered with either green or blue coloured flags playing supporting songs, the Jordanian police surround the whole area of the stadium and they try to avoid any supporters gathering”, Muhammed El Moaaita a 20 years old Faisaly supporter.
A game not a war
There has been several efforts to put the rivally between Wehdat and Faisaly to an end. In the 90’s the Jordanian sports officials encouraged Wehdat to change its name into “el daften” (The two banks club) as a sign of unity between Jordanians and Palestinians in their common home land. But they failed to resolve the tensions in the Jordanian streets and the old name was reinstalled.
Settling the hostility between the two sides can’t be met by a fast nor easy solution stats the manager of the competition, Ayman Haroun.
“The media plays an essential role in teaching how supporters should support their teams in a friendly way and accepting being defeated, simply because loosing a game is not loosing a war,” he says and continues:
“The administrations of the two clubs should also be aware of the problem and learn from clubs administrations in Europe. They should understand that they don’t represent the supporters and they should be telling the supporters to have more sports spirit. We need more regulation and punishment, and the police force should be responsible for determining the trouble makers on both sides and make black lists to avoid them from entering the stadiums the same way the British police do with the hooligans,” he finishes.
But the extra security and police force around the games between the two rivals is not perceived as a reinforcement of security but as direct discrimination. Wehdat fans feel assaulted by the way they are treated after a game.
“They make Wehdat fans walk beside walls along the road like goats, so they have no chance to celebrate”, says the Wehdat supporter Samer.
But keeping the audience away from the games, being harsh on hostile chants and avoiding big groups of supporters in the street does not solve the rivally outside of the stadiums, according to Jihad Abu Falah a journalist at the news department at AmmanNet and a former elected board member of the Jordanian soccer club Shabab Al Hussein Club. He believes the conflict between the two rival fan clubs reflects the Jordanian society as a whole.
“The problem is not about sports, the whole country is divided. People like football because it represents their political stand.”
To cheer for a special team is just like expressing your political view and that increases the tension in the already political divided country.
“Some people are fearful from repeating of the 1970 conflicts between Jordanians and Palestinians because of football. Personally I think that both teams imposes kind of risk on the national security and their conflict represent the debate in the whole society,” says Jihad Abu Falah and think disolving the struggle should therefor be a high ranked issue on the political agenda.
Away from the rivalry between the two sides of Jordanian football a new hope appeared recently under the name of “Shabab Al-Ordon”, a new football club established in 2002 that managed in winning the local league in 2006 and the Asian Federation Cupin 2007.
“I support Shabab Al Ordon. This team plays very well and I consider it as a neutral side”, says Ahmed El Masry, another young football fan who choose to deal with the rivalry in an alternative way.
“I think the secret behind their success wining the Jordanian league only four years after their establishment is focusing only on football.”