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Why fans invaded pitch during Aweil North-Pibor tournament

Author: Elshiekh Chol Ajeing | Published: Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Football fans pound on plastic chairs after invading the pitch to attack a referee on allegations that he allowed a handball to stand. (Courtesy)

The final match of a peace tournament played out by Aweil North and Pibor on July 16, was prematurely ended as rowdy fans stormed Buluk playground and pummeled chairs after Pibor scored a winner in the 90s minute.

The competition dubbed Aweil Martyrs Tournament aimed to bring about peaceful cohesion among communities, was contested by eight football clubs from Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Pibor, and Gogrial West.

In the stoppage time of the final playoff, all hell broke loose after Aweil North fans invaded the pitch to protest a stoppage time goal – chasing the referee for allowing what they purported to be a handball to stand.

After the referee fled and high-level sports officials were whisked away, the unruly crowd then pounded on plastic chairs and damaged the artificial turf on the playground.

More than a week later, the tournament organizing committee ruled that the Pibor Football Team be crowned champions of the match that was prematurely ended over a violent pitch invasion.

In a letter released Friday, the organizing committee condemned the incident. Aweil North Team has been fined two million (2,000,000) South Sudanese pounds to cover the damages during the riots.

An investigation committee formed by Aweil Athletes Forum found, through a video highlight, that the winning goal was not scored with the hand as purported.

The investigation team perceives that the fans started the brawl on the ground of lack of will to accept defeat.

Marco Yach, a member of the committee, said the incident surprised everyone, but he added that “fortunately”, no life was lost during the incident.

“We have started the tournament very smoothly and everything was moving well but at the last minute the incident happened, we brought security, but it was not enough,” he said.

“But the good thing is that no life was lost during the chaos, an event like this sometimes people lost life, so we thank God for that, and we apologize for it, Yach said.

On his part, Marco Akol, the Secretary General of the Organizing Committee, has dismissed the allegations that a Pibor player scooped the ball into the net with his hand like the 1986 Diego Maradona’s ‘hand of god’ goal.

Akol said after video check, the committee found out that the referee was right in his ruling, and that there was no handball.

“Some fans said the goal was by handball, but when we checked it through videos that were recorded by some individuals and journalist, it showed there was no handball in it,” Akol said.

According to him, Aweil North fans were not able to absorb the shock of a late goal in the last minutes when they were mentally prepared for the penalties shootout as the game was still 1:1 at the 91st minute.

In regard to that organizing committee decided to award the Pibor team and consider Aweil North to lose 2:0 as per South Sudan Football Association general regulations.

Aweil North were fined two thousand SSP to be paid to the organizing committee as compensation for the damage caused by their fans.

The organizing committee said it will organize an event to hand over the trophy and individual prices to the winners.

Yet the chaotic pitch invasion is only the latest episode of a series of past football violence targeting referees and sometimes players in different parts of the country.

From November 2022 to January 2023, three consecutive incidents of violent assault against football referees were reported in Yambio, Wau and Juba in what a retired football referee described as a virus that needs to be addressed.

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