Hooligans: From the Diary of an Arab Millennial
I am not a big sports fan. My reasons lie in the patriarchal values the enterprise promotes. Athletes can be forgiven for pretty much anything- no matter how immoral, violent, or criminal- as long as they remain good at their jobs. I don’t see that in any other profession: if your colleague was known for beating his wife, he would be fired or at the very least socially isolated, not praised for his ability to fill out reports faster than anyone else in the office. I am not a fan of an enterprise that insists on giving boys and men the undeserved title of heroes, only to excuse them for countless crimes and misdemeanors (sexual assault, fiscal irresponsibility, drug abuse, DUIs, domestic violence; the list goes on).
I am, however, a big fan of discovery. When my friend Majed had a spare ticket to watch one of the most anticipated soccer games of the season happening in my town, I said: “What the hell, why not?”. He warned me to leave my phone at home and to not carry any cash because it is a dangerous place for a woman. I laughed, reminding him that I live in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country. Despite my claims, I ended up following his recommendation. I spent a whole night thinking of how stadiums and athletic spaces are violently masculine; I came to the conclusion that it sucks being a woman.
On game day, we headed to the stadium early to avoid a stampede. We found our seats amongst crowds of people eager to watch the match and settled in for the action. I kept searching for a girl to relate to, but I seemed to be the only human being with a vagina in a 4-kilometer radius. The game started and so did the chants. I enjoyed hugging strangers when something seemingly exciting happened on the field, and yelling violent slurs at the opposing team. I did not understand what was going on. To this day, I have no idea which teams were playing. Majed; however, was enjoying his time a lot less than I was. He spent the duration of the match making sure no one was harassing me. Truth be told, the environment was surprisingly hospitable. My fellow spectators were extremely sweet to me, most of them glad that a girl shared their interest. At least four men shared their joints with me and one of them gave me a Nordaz pill. I began to think girls were welcome in this space, as long as they have a Majed to look after them (this realization would have bothered me were I not on my fourth joint). You see, we are all quick to judge and point accusatory fingers at countries like Saudi Arabia or Iran for forbidding women to go out with a male companion but at the end of the day, the reality is quite similar in most Arab countries.
Towards the end of the game, “our” team was winning and a few dozen boys were handing me the team’s fan gear and teaching me the appropriate celebratory chants. Majed was standing close enough not to let anyone get inappropriate and insisted we leave early. When we walked out of the stadium, he realized someone had stolen his phone, which I found hilarious, and I had accidentally stolen a team scarf. I keep it to this day as a souvenir.
The stadium is now closed, following a series of violent clashes during derby games. I sometimes think about my football experience. I wonder what the guy who gave me Nordaz does for fun now. What is he doing with all the aggressive passion he had? Where is it being channeled to? Did he find a new team to support? Did he get political to protest the stadium closing down? Does he still share his pills with strangers who happen to support his team or does he need them all to himself now that they took his stadium away? Because it truly is his. The stadium belongs to him and all the shirtless, boney boys who hugged me and tried to touch my tits. And it is mine to; it has a seat I made mine. It really is all they have. Who are they hugging now?
I get it now. Sports is to them what writing is to me: a way to blow off steam, a way they discovered by chance and one that many find offensive and/or insulting. If it were to disappear or be taken by force, where would they go? What else will they call theirs?
Go -insert here your team’s mascot-!