In recent years, Lebanon has been in the headlines as a result of internal conflicts among its various ethnic groups and hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel. However, throughout this time, the country's vibrant social and cultural life has continued — a fact that has received limited attention from academic researchers. One cultural element of Lebanese life is football, the world's most popular sport.
There have been many instances when football played a central role in social and political conflicts, but how does the sport function under fire? For this purpose, I have chosen to look at the way football has interacted with the intercommunal conflicts in Lebanon and its fraught relations with neighbors. These conflicts have often spread to the pitch and stands in the stadiums, and conversely, connections have sometimes developed into alliances outside the sport. The encounter within the stadium has become an opportunity to find ideological partners and forge connections under the regime's radar.
This article examines the Lebanese football scene in the period 2000–15 to address the function football plays and what ends it serves. How does the sport influence civilian life, foreign relations and the economy? Does football protect the regime or is it rather an “own goal” that unites its opponents? Is football controlled by the regime, or is it an egalitarian autonomous sphere? Can a study of what goes on in the stands reveal anything about events outside the stadium?
My analysis will show that football is a significant dimension in the day-to-day life of the Lebanese man in the street as well as the regime, which exploits the sport to achieve its aims. Similarly, by analyzing video segments and correspondence in online fan forums, primarily social networks, I will show that the voices of Lebanese football fans, including their methods of expressing support of favorite teams — cheers, songs, publications and chants at rallies — are platforms for transmitting messages and methods of expression that deserve scholarly attention. They are sometimes the fans' only opportunity to express themselves in public.
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Similarly, indoor and beach football were allocated about $30,000 annually, increased to $100,000 in 2015. Finally, the grant for junior football, previously $50,000, was increased to $180,000 in 2015 at the expense of men’s football.64 In addition to money, FIFA donated about 2,500 regulation footballs from 2003 to 2014 and sponsored courses for referees and coaches, football events for women and courses on management, administration, strategy and leadership. FIFA also invited bids for several projects in Lebanon. In July 2001, artificial turf was installed in the Safa club’s stadium in Beirut, so the national team could practice there, at a cost of $473,300. In October 2011, half a million dollars worth of artificial turf was installed at another Beirut stadium, to provide a training field for junior teams. In March 2014, construction began on a new professional sports facility in the Bir Hassan neighbourhood of Beirut, at a similar cost.65 As in Syria, where international institutions such as UNICEF, UNRWA and the Asian Football Development Project (AFDP) are active, children’s-rights organizations run a number of projects in Lebanon. One conspicuous venture is the “popular clubs” project sponsored by the Cross Cultures Project Association (CCPA) and the Rockwool Foundation. The CCPA first came to Lebanon in 2005 and set up five Open Fun Football Schools with the assistance of Rockwool, which develops amateur football infrastructure in socially divided countries as a tool to help bridge the fissures. Rockwool believes football allows for creating friendships that assist in building a society that promotes peace, tolerance and cooperation. It also believes that making football accessible to the masses can ensure that football does not become the exclusive property of the rich.66