Here’s another concept that it seems to be tough for Lebanon to grasp: sportsmanship.
For the second time in two consecutive games, Lebanon’s top 2 basketball teams were found at each other’s throats as the games they were playing ended. You’d think someone would have learned from the first round but it seems we were too foolishly optimistic. One can not hope for any form of civility in this country, even in sports.
The stories over what happened are numerous. The one that was relayed to me by a relative who was at the game is the following: Towards the end of the 4th quarter, when it was obvious that Sagesse had won and tied the tiers 2-2, the players had apparently an agreement to pass the remaining seconds with the score unchanged. Dewarik Spencer, Sagesse’s player, then decided to score a two-point basket at the last second which angered Lauren Woods, who plays with Riyadi, leading to an altercation between the two men as is obvious in the following video:
Subsequently, the very civil crowds attending the game decided to join in on the fun. Next thing you know, the players had joined in on the fighting while LBC’s Gayath was lost for words commenting on the absolutely beautiful scene in front of him. But does the story of the fight, regardless of sides, even matter?
The fight, however, is not that of a simple two points scored.
Prior to the game at hand, Sagesse’s fans were circulating the following picture online to flex their muscles. Who can beat them if Jesus was on their side?
The chants by Riyadi’s supporters at the previous game are the other side of the coin. It felt like 1997 all over again when the fights were a constellation of sectarian-political causes. Christians versus Muslims. Lebanese Forces persecuted as they were at the time versus Future Movement, then working with the Assad regime.
Our Lebanese time machine still works. We always find ways to put ourselves back in time, because who doesn’t like familiarity?
It’s weird how these two teams, belonging to two political parties that are currently in bed with each other, still manage to hate each other as much as they do. You can’t help but wonder what would have happened had Riyadi been a Shiite-centric party with Hezbollah funding? Count your lucky stars people the party of god has not ventured into basketball yet.
The main problem at hand is not that Lebanese Christians hate its Muslims (and vice versa) or that the Lebanese Forces and the Future Movement cannot eradicate the history both of them share by a few years of alliance.
The problem is that these problems, held at bay with Lebanon’s fragile politics, are finding their way to erupt at something as meaningless in the grand scheme of things as a championship basketball game. What do these people have left for when something major actually happens? Will they bring out their tanks and missiles and work their way through the argument then?
The problem is that our sports are so infiltrated with politics they’ve lost the true meaning of what sports should be: something to bring people together in a friendly competition. If you support Sagesse, one can assume with a high degree of accuracy that you are Christian and prefer the Lebanese Forces politically. If you support Riyadi, one assumes you’re Sunni and a fan of Hariri. Is that how it’s supposed to be? Isn’t sports about supporting the team you believe has the best game not the one which satisfies your sectarian itch?
The even bigger problem is that people are proud of the fights at hand. Sagesse’s supporters call Riyadi’s supporters tatar. The reverse is also true. If you check both teams’ Facebook pages, you will find a slew of hateful speech towards each other that struts the lines of sectarianism and civil war rhetoric quite proudly. Here are a few screenshots, with next to no voices of reason:
It hasn’t even been long since the world basketball federation lifted the ban on Lebanese basketball for the clear infiltration of the sector by our horrid politics. The many months the sector spent in limbo, not knowing whether it would be able to launch again or not, were not enough to teach anyone a lesson.
No one learned, fight after fight, that there’s a tangible need to raise ticket prices. No one learned that there’s a dire need for new regulations that limit politics and political money, effectively removing that extra player each team has on court. It’s not a surprise though that there are no lessons learned because since when do we as Lebanese actually do that?