2006-07-13 / Sam Bari

You can't beat a system you can't understand

We won the World Cup! Let's riot!
By Sam Bari

The World Cup is over, and from all reports, everyone appears to have survived, which is kind of refreshing. In years past, soccer contests have produced some, shall we say, disturbing results.

However, this year was an exception. Apparently, not a riot was reported anywhere in the world. I don't believe I read about so much as even a mildly violent incident. A few Italians danced on their cars while enjoying a little vino, but who can fault them for that? Their team just won the World Cup. As I understand it, that's quite a feat in sporting circles. I can't help but wonder what happened to make this year so special?

Sports and fan violence have quite a history. The media perceives large sporting events as nobrainers, virtual holidays as far as they are concerned. They usually don't have a need to search for worthy stories whenever a championship game of just about any kind occurs. They can depend on riots, violence, mass arrests, and good footage of general mayhem to fill television screens and frontpage headlines for at least a few days in the aftermath of the outcome. That's something I've always found baffling. Fans riot whether their team wins or loses. Why is that?

Remember when the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl back in 1994? As soon as the game was over, frenzied fans flipped cars, started fires, and one disgruntled spectator driving an SUV ran over three people because he was upset about the traffic congestion. One of his victims died. It's a good thing the Patriots won, because I'd hate to think of what could have happened if they lost. But, as I mentioned before, winning or losing doesn't seem to be the deciding factor that causes rioting and destruction of property.

According to research from Iowa State University, a student survey found that nearly onequarter of male students hoped to be an active participant in a riot during their college years. Nearly half of those surveyed expressed interest in watching a riot. If this is true, then the effects of victory or loss over a sporting event causing irrational behavior is definitely a myth. It seems that a defect in the genetic makeup of a large percentage of the male population gives them a thirst for an upclose and-personal flirtation with senseless violent behavior.

The cause of this sudden reversal of traditional phenomena seemed worth exploring, so we put our crack team of Googlamaniacs to the task and they returned with amazing results.

Apparently, a worldwide database has been compiled that lists soccer fans who were arrested for rioting and causing disturbances after games. It wasn't clear who compiled the list, but the Dutch police took advantage of the technology. This year Germany hosted the World Cup, and we can thank their police force for their high-tech recon efforts to nab soccer rioters via Short Message Service, commonly referred to as SMS. They launched a computerbased system to make sure banned fans stayed at home during the games.

A computer with voice recognition software called a random selection of fans with stadium bans at their homes during matches. The computer identified them to make sure they were not at the games. This is not a lie. I assure you I am not imaginative enough to make this up. The calls couldn't be forwarded to cell phones, and apparently in Germany, if you've been arrested for violent behavior after a soccer match, you can be put under house arrest during matches for a specified amount of time.

I must admit that it is surprising that dedicated fans didn't come from other countries to incite disorderly behavior, because even if the Germans had a worldwide list, they couldn't call everybody and force them to stay at home. They did, however, send 17,000 text messages to the cell phones of fans that rioted at a Rotterdam soccer game and were not at home to receive the voice recognition calls. As unbelievable as it might seem, four suspects contacted the police after receiving the texts, and a fifth just turned himself in. I suppose if you're stupid enough to riot over a soccer game, then you're probably stupid enough to turn yourself in over a text message.

The point is, that the police were determined to keep violence at bay, and they succeeded, for which, we certainly congratulate them. I'm not sure if that database is available for other sporting events, but it should be.

However, the consequences of the Dutch police in their efficiency could be far reaching. Their success wiped out the opportunity for millions of dollars worth of perfectly good news. Could it be that this trend will continue, and in a few years, gratuitous violence and rioting will be events of the past? Will the media be forced to print nothing but good news? Nobody wants to read that. It could make more wars necessary. Without violence, the entire news industry could go bankrupt. Unfortunately, I don't think we have anything to worry about. As long as we have diversified religion, we'll have violence. More wars are fought in the name of God than anything else. It's part of that system that's really difficult to understand.

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