Tunisian soccer clubs have asked the government-backed sports betting agency Promosport to increase their funding after the Tunisian Football Federation last month barred spectators from matches for the rest of the season.
The clubs say they need the increase because of reduced ticket revenues as well as reduced advertising and sponsorship as a result on the ban.
Promosport, which is owned by the Ministry of Youth Sports and Physical Education, puts 50 percent of its revenues into a sports development fund, which financially supports soccer clubs.
The ban on spectators was introduced after militant, violence prone soccer fans disrupted several domestic league matches. Fans disrupted this weekend an African championship match between Tunisia’s Club Africain and Sudan’s Al-Hilal in the Rades Olympic Stadium pitch and reportedly attacked the referee, linesmen and police.
The incident occurred less than two weeks after militant fans stormed the pitch during domestic matches between Olympique Beja and AS Marsa and Club Bizertiain against CS Sfaxien. African championship matches were excluded from the ban.
The incidents confirmed the government’s worst fears which last month only reluctantly agreed to restarting the league competition. The competition was suspended in January to prevent the pitch from becoming a rallying point for protesters who forced Tunisian President Zine Abedine Ben Ali to resign after 23 years in power. Militant soccer fans played a key role in the toppling of Ben Ali as well as in protests in Egypt that led to the downfall of President Hosni Mubarak.
Some fans believe that the soccer incidents are being forced by supporters of former president Ben Ali in a bid to provoke a police crackdown on protesters and the re-introduction of restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly.
A reduced police presence and lax security at the match is more likely to be a result the police’s attempts to shore up their tarnished image, avoid clashes with militant fans and prove the need for them to enforce law and order. Like in Egypt, the Tunisian police are widely seen as henchmen of the toppled authoritarian regimes.
Tunisian fans note that this weekend’s incident took place amid mass protests following assertions by a former interior minister that post-Ben Ali Tunisia was being ruled by a shadow government that was in cahoots with the military to stage a coup to prevent Islamists from making gains in election scheduled for July 24.