Tunisian Bans Fans From Soccer Matches

Violent clashes during two recent Tunisian league matches has prompted the country’s soccer authority to ban fans from the rest of the season’s games.

The decision by the Tunisian Football Federation (TFF) came after militant fans stormed the pitch last Sunday during matches between Olympique Beja and AS Marsa  and Club Bizertiain against CS Sfaxien.

Referees declared a strike after the incidents to demand enhanced security. The strike forced the cancellation of two league matches on Wednesday. The referees are scheduled to discuss the situation with the TFF on Thursday.

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.

The Tunisian federation said its ban on fans attending matches applied to the season’s 
remaining ten matches but not to African Champions League or Confederation Cup games.

The incidents had much in common with last month’s storming of the pitch in Cairo during an African championship match between Al Zamalek FC and Club African. Police were almost absent in both games giving militant fans for the first time in years control of the stadium. In Bizerte, fans damaged stadium facilities and television cameras to protest Sfaxien’s 3-0 lead in the first 20 minutes of the game.

In Cairo, the invasion was in protest against a referee decision that threatened to prevent Zamalek from advancing in the competition. The invasion followed a smaller incident in an earlier match in Tunis between Zamalek and Club African for which the Tunisian club was fined $10,000.


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