|Lebanon’s ban on spectators has meant clubs need
funds which has in turn politicised the teams
Football may be the most popular sport in Lebanon, but week after week the stadiums, which can hold up to 60,000 people, are empty.
The Lebanese league is still under way, but there are no fans to support the teams, after an official ban on spectators was introduced by the government one season ago due to fears of political and religious-inspired violence.
The situation is made more difficult by the fact that football is the most popular sport in Lebanon and any game played could easily attract tens of thousands of spectators.
Fouad Hijazi, a Lebanese football player, said: “We don’t feel like this is a match. It is as if we are training. The audience encourages us to play better.”
Lebanese authorities blame the tense political atmosphere in the country and fears of possible violence for the ban.
Riots have broken out in the past and there are fears that they can easily turn into sectarian clashes.
Rahif Alameh, head of Lebanese Football Association, said that a lack of funds has allowed Lebanon’s political parties to step in and finance the sport.
This, in turn, has politicised teams that would otherwise play simply for the love of the game.
“All the football clubs are backed by a party. Ahed for example is backed by Hizbullah, Hariri supports Nejmeh and Ansar, Druze politicians support Safa and the list goes on,” he said.
While the much-needed cash allows these teams to survive, tying the team to party politics has had a negative effect on some of the players.
Ali Ferdous, a Lebanese football player, said: “Some of the teams incorporate politics and this has an affect on the games and the management of those teams, especially among the players.
“Sometimes you see how certain players are included in the team simply because of their religion.”
For football fans the politically-charged atmosphere means that they are only able to watch the games live on television.
Oussama Fayrallah, a football coach for one of Lebanon’s football teams, said: “Football is very important in any country.
“All the people here need football because they forget all the problems.”
While in many countries football brings people together, in Lebanon it has the power to divide people, because in Lebanon the rules of the game are different.