Football Over – Hypocrisy Remains

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar June 7, 2019 13:04


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Football Over – Hypocrisy Remains

By Satish Sekar in Baku © Satish Sekar (May 30th 2019)

Unifying Force

It’s said that football has the power to unite. Sometimes it has and does. Zambia, for example, saw black and white players, coaches and administrators defy unjust laws over half a century ago. They played with and against each other, as Northern Rhodesia’s racist regime entered its death throes. Football played a part in consigning colonialism to the past.

George Sikazwe, Samuel ‘Zoom’ Ndhlovu, Ginger Pensulo and Jackie Sewell among others became household names, not just in football. They were more than just football and sport icons – they were national heroes.

Football’s contribution began in earnest in April 1961 – it had been playing a part a generation earlier in Livingstone, but as amateurs, as there were no professional or even semi-professional leagues then. Livingstone paved the path that others, especially in the Copperbelt, would follow in the final push for independence.

Pensulo scored the goal that led to other matches, a league, and independence within 3.5 years of that match in Zambia’s Copperbelt.

Veterans of the early days of Northern Rhodesia’s National Football League insist that football united the races, and played an important role in the independence struggle, culminating in independence being celebrated by a football tournament, illustrating the contribution that veterans of the anti-colonial, freedom struggle believed the sport and players had made. It remains the most popular sport in the country and a shining example of the unifying force of football. But there’s a flip side.


While football can unite, it has divided too. Honduras and El Salvador even went to war over a football match 50 years ago. It’s not the only example. The beginning of the end of the former Yugoslavia started with a match between bitter rivals, Dinamo Zagreb and Red Star Belgrade.
It has even been theatre where centuries old conflicts express themselves again. Residents of Catania and Palermo had been fighting each other for over two and a half millenniums. Nobody knows or cares why it started – it’s almost a way of life played out in football.

If anyone is interested it began with Ancient Greeks and Phoenicians, and was passed down through Carthaginians and Romans, Christians and Muslims and other foes through the centuries. The original causes matter little now, but hostilities regularly flare up.
And now another very divisive political rivalry has found an expression in football.

The Europa League Final ended in a humiliating defeat for Arsenal – a match played in the absence of Arsenal’s Armenian play-maker, Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Lost in Mkhitaryan’s decision – his right – not to come to Azerbaijan was the fate of a top Azeri football team in the war that caused the controversy.

The Hypocrisy

As the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) disintegrated, age-old nationalist rivalries between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh resurfaced, and eventually resulted in war. It ended with the military defeat of Azerbaijan and a political mess that defies all attempts at securing a lasting peace.

Far from uniting the feuding nations, football, or rather a football team and its supporters, became a casualty of war, displacing Qarabağ and their supporters. Far from demonstrating its power to unite – seen in another dispute involving one of the parties in this dispute – football remained and remains silent about the fate of Azerbaijan’s Refugee Team.


Qarabağ ‘s original home, Ağdam, was reduced to rubble just two days before a cease-fire was announced. The rubble included Qarabağ’s stadium. They will never return. They and their supporters were permanently displaced. Without help from football, Qarabağ built a new stadium in Baku.

Earlier this season Arsenal were drawn against Qarabağ. Henrikh Mhitaryan refused to travel, citing security issues. He received assurances then too. There was little fanfare in the media then – the little there was ignored what Qarabağ had been through, and are still going through.

Where was the support for Qarabağ and their refugee supporters? Football gave itself a huge pat on the back when top European clubs, Bayern Munich and Porto showed support and solidarity to refugees of the war in Syria – rightly so – but what about its own victims of war, football’s own refugees, Qarabağ. We highlighted the hypocrisy years ago (

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar June 7, 2019 13:04