Monday, November 21, 2011

A Sociological look at the Brazil vs. Egypt Friendly Match at Al-Rayyan Stadium

After driving at snail speed in the midst of traffic on the road to Al Rayyan Stadium in Doha last Monday, I walked a considerable distance from my car to the stadium’s entrance. On my way to the actual stadium, I came across a few things besides screaming fan groups with painted faces and floating flags, and people trying to sell merchandise (flags, snacks, lights etc.). First, I come across stand-by police cars, and security officials waiting at the outer gate of the stadium parking lot. And what I didn’t expect to see is a line of security officials on horses (more like cavalry), perfectly aligned and still, and ready to be summoned at any moment. The number of spectators in the stadium that night was announced to be over 25,000 people. When there is such a large mass of people, there needs to be some sort of control.

Without some form of social control, there is a possible threat that too many people will deviate from the norms that regulate accepted and suitable behavior. To ensure that no people deviate from these norms and expectations, security officials inside and all around the stadium keep a diligent eye and sanction anyone who even attempts any mild deviant behavior like aggressive talk between two opposing groups (Brazilian fans and Egyptian fans) trying to vandalize property or sneak in without a ticket, or sit somewhere that is unauthorized to you.

Next, I reach the security screening of spectators, similar to an airport manual check-up that doesn’t include walking through a detector system. This is where I noticed strict gender segregation: female security employees checked women and young children in a separate section and men (including young boys if they were accompanied by a male adult) went to another section where they were screened my male officials. People tried to rush past without getting checked, but security guards at both ends of the separate sections pulled them back. Officials at the entrances told women to go to the women’s section, and men to go to the male section, constantly monitoring the flow of people to ensure conformity to the rules. Failure to conform these rules might result in formal sanctions – which are, according to Joan Ferrante, expressions of disapproval or approval supported by official laws, policies, rules that dictate how people should be punished or rewarded for specific behavior.

Finally after ticket processing, I was directed to the gate number that leads to the section my seat is in. More security meets people heading towards the gate entrance, and security staff and personnel open the door to the fenced area where my seat is located, and I am ushered to the seat number printed on my ticket. The view is unlike what I usually see on my television screen at home. No matter how “HD” you get with the broadcast of any game, this is different. This is the “real” experience. You get to absorb the game and the reactions of everyone around you; cheering fans, the excitement, the anticipation, and the thrill of the game.

In the area close to where I was sitting, there were a lot of families with young children, older children, and even infants, carried on parents’ shoulders. Many believe that there is so much more to football than a game of set tactics, skill and rules. Sociology would call part of that added meaning and “effect” the process of socialization. These children are socialized at a very young age, through experiencing watching a game, cheering for their team, and their country, to value the game, and their national team, and participate in this experience that shows belonging to a group, pride of belonging to that group, and the importance of support for that group. They develop a sense of self, a sense of the group they belong to and the ways of that group, and the way of society. Joan Ferrante defines games as “structured organized activities that usually involve more than one person and a number of constraints, such as established roles, rules, time, place and outcome,” (p. 96).

The players on both the Brazilian and Egyptian national teams were probably exposed to the game at a very young age, where they developed a system of expected behavior in the football game stage. This system is called the generalized other, (Ferrante, p. 96) It shapes and defines meanings, behaviors, and perspectives that go beyond those participating in the game. These expected rules, behaviors, and meanings were already pre-established by people before the players even started learning the game.

At a young age, the players learn more than just passing the ball, and scoring goals, they learn to see things from a particular perspective. By performing their roles (striker, defender, goalkeeper, mid-fielder), in a shared activity, with a common goal, and interacting with each other to achieve that goal, the players learn to anticipate other peoples’ moves, their views, and their expectations of how to behave.

The game can result in the creation of ingroups and outgroups. The Egyptian team for example is a group in which its members feel a strong sense of belonging, and in many different cases when playing against a particular team, they share a strong sense of opposition for that team, that goes beyond the sense of competition in the game in itself. Similarly, the same concept can expand to all the Egyptians and Egyptian fans in the audience. To the Egyptians, the Brazilian team can be regarded as the outgroup (the group towards which the ingroup – the Egyptian team, feel opposition). The Egyptians in this case is the ingroup, and Brazilians the outgroup. In another sense, the Brazilians in the stadium could feel a strong sense of separateness towards the Egyptians and hence, the Egyptians in this case is the outgroup, and Brazilians the ingroup.

There are many past incidents where ingroups and outgroups clashed during a game in a stadium, and outside a stadium all around the world. Luckily, at this game, the horses at the front gates didn’t have to charge, and neither did the fans around me. I thoroughly enjoyed the match, and all the surrounding spectators and fans showing support for their team in many different ways; singing songs, cheering (with a combination of drumming on seats, apparently an Egyptian specialty), painted faces, waving flags, funny wigs, and not a favorite of mine – the screeching loud cheering horns that echo in your ear drums till the end of the night.

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