Sports In Lebanon During Covid
It has been a while since the start of the covid pandemic and since sporting events were as always, packed with passionate fans. Sports fanatics who had to settle for the past 20 months to watching their favorite events on TV, are starting to gradually make their way back into stadiums. In Lebanon however, the situation is more complicated.
Sports events have been played behind closed doors to the public for almost two years now. Even the most popular sports events and tournaments such as the Olympics and the UEFA Euro 2020 which were postponed to 2021, were played with limited to no fans allowed in the stadiums. As the fans start to make their way back in European football, football in Lebanon is still being played behind closed doors.
In Lebanon, Football and Basketball are by far the two most popular sports with a huge gap above all others. In football, fans have not been allowed inside stadiums since the league returned to action. Just like in other countries, teams have been affected financially and players morally by the absence of fans in stadiums. “It’s not the same to play a home match without fans” stated Coach Daniel Gimenez, former Analyst at AFC Cup 2019 Champions Al-Ahed and current Assistant Coach at Al-Nejmeh, “it’s not the same having 5000 fans in the stadium cheering for you compared to possibly 50 people watching from home.”
Lebanon hasn’t suffered only from the pandemic as there were already ongoing protests in different cities across the country as it suffers the worst economic crisis of its history. The Lebanese pound lost more than 10 times its value as people are looking for a way to earn foreign currencies or work abroad in order to send money to their families back home. Moreover, the country is going through fuel and electricity crisis and shortage which also doesn’t facilitate watching football on TV.
Loyal football fans had always made their way to stadiums in Lebanon and cheered for their clubs even if they weren’t large in numbers, they surely cheered with passion. “The fans can’t wait to come back to the stadiums, and sometimes we can see few of them around the stadiums when we have a match,” said Daniel.
During the pandemic, fans have been spotted outside some stadiums, greeting and cheering for their players before and after their matches. In Jounieh, fans were found sitting on the side of the road, on the bridge that passes above the highway, where they have a view of the matches without being physically inside the stadium, despite the country being on a supposedly strict lockdown.
For most those loyal fans though, watching football became a home activity, much like everything else since the pandemic. Surely one can think of many advantages of watching a match from home compared to doing so from the stands, so the question is will the fans get used to watching from home and refrain from going back to stadiums or do they miss it enough to go crazy the next time they cheer from close range?
Watching on TV saves money, fuel and effort during a crisis where the Lebanese people have got a lot more to think about than football one might think. You can also watch in your living room, at your comfort, cheer in any way you like and benefit from highlights, replays and a commentator. For those who like to focus on match details and analyze performances, watching on TV is a much better experience.
However, there is no experience like watching a live match inside the stadium especially for loyal fans who feel like they have a responsibility towards their teams since their performance from the stands also counts for a lot.
With that being said, it is feared that most people are not even able to watch from home in Lebanon. The crisis and shortage in electricity has made it really difficult for the fans. The Lebanese Football Association have to schedule the matches in the afternoon to be able to play in the daylight – to save electricity cost for the stadiums – and the matches scheduled in the afternoon come at a time where electricity is off in most Lebanese cities, which makes life difficult for football fans. Gimenez expressed his concerns in this regard as well: “Sure they miss being in the stadiums and the crisis is not helping because they are cutting even the generators many hours during the day, so how will the people watch the match even on tv?”
It is also feared that the fans will not come back to the stadiums when they get the green light, “I really doubt that they will have the same interest or passion for football as before. It is getting more and more complicated and it doesn’t help the growth of football in Lebanon.”
Until now, fans are still not allowed inside the stadiums, and the overall situation in the country is worrying but the fanatics remain hopeful for things to get better in the future.