The top three worst sports riots in history. Sports. They’re generally something designed to bring joy to our world. But from time to time poor sportsmanship gets the better of many of us, and tempers flare. No one likes losing, and when it’s your favorite team, it’s even worse. Unfortunately though, some people seem to take the loss personally, and behave in a totally irrational and violent manner. When a lot of people with the same grudge at the result get together, a riot can take place, and they can be pretty bad. When it comes to the worst sports riots in history though we generally think of them as a problem of the modern era. While this is generally the case, disgusting acts of violence following a sporting event have been occurring for centuries. In fact, the worst sports riot in history took place 1,500 years ago. But before we get down to that grizzly affair, we will count down the worst sports riots in history.
A little note to begin with. We are only including riots with death tolls. Riots that include property damage are bad, and can have a huge financial and social cost attached, but by far the biggest cost comes with the loss of life.
3 Port Said Stadium riot (2012)
We don’t need to delve too far back in time to get to one of the worst cases of hooliganism after a sporting event, and surprisingly it was the followers of the victorious team that started the violence.
The Port Said Stadium riot took place on 1 February 2012. The sporting event was the Egyptian Premier League football match between El Masry and El Ahly clubs. Tempers were already high between the rivals, and the initial kickoff was delayed because El Masry fans were on the pitch. The stadium was a powder keg awaiting to explode, and at the final whistle it would.
Each time their team scored a goal, the supporters of El Masry invaded the pitch. At the conclusion of play they once again ran onto the field, and this time became violent. They started to throw stones and bottles at the Ahly fans, and some were even carrying knives. Fights started to break out all over the stadium, and in the ensuing violence dozens were killed. This riot ended football in the country for two years.
Total cost in human lives:
- 72 killed
- 500+ injured
- 47 arrested
2 Lima football disaster (1964)
The second worst riot, and the worst in football history, occurred on 24 May, 1964. While some could argue that it was the second worst disaster to befall the football code when compared to this, it’s without a doubt the worst sports riot in recent history. So how did it all begin?
On 24 May, 1964, Peru was hosting a qualifying match for the Tokyo Olympics against Argentina. It was considered to be vital that Peru win the game, as they were to face World Cup holders Brasil in the final game. But as much as they might have wanted to win, fate was not on their side.
In the dying minutes of the game, Argentina was leading 1-0. With only two minutes on the clock, Peru scored a goal that was disallowed by the Uruguayan referee. The capacity crowd were infuriated.
Within seconds the crowd entered the playing field. Police attending the game fired tear gas into the northern grandstand to deter further fans from invading the pitch, but it had unintended consequences. The crowd panicked, and started to flee for the exits. The problem was that the gates were not made of iron bars, as most standard gates are. They were made out of corrugated iron. With the stampede of fleeing spectators, many became crushed in the tunnels leading out of the grandstand.
Total cost of human lives:
- 328 killed
- 500+ injured
1 Nika riots (532 AD)
Proving that the modern world is not the only period of time where people tended to over react to a game, the Nika riots of 532 AD takes out the title for worst sports riots in history, and by a clear margin. This unmitigated disaster saw massive loss of life and the destruction of half a burgeoning city, and the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire.
Laying at the heart of the riot was a chariot race, and the fate of two men who were convicted of murder. To make matters worse were new taxes that were unpopular, and delicate peace negotiations with Persia in the east. Emperor Justinian was in a tight spot, and believed a chariot race would smooth things over.
On January 13, 532, spectators already angry and tense started to arrive for the days races. As was always the case, there existed a bitter rivalry between the spectators teams. Emperor Justinian himself was safe, viewing the race from his palace that was beside the hippodrome. By the end of the day the crowd was no longer chanting for their team. Instead they were chanting in unison, “Nika”, meaning “Win!” or “Conquer!” the emperor, the city and the empire was in serious trouble.
Over the next five days the palace complex was in a state of siege. The angry crowd wanted the emperor overthrown. Some dissatisfied senators seized the opportunity, and planned an overthrow of the emperor. The angry crowd even went as far to declare a new emperor, Hypatius, who was a nephew of former Emperor Anastasius I.
Instead of fleeing the palace and city, Justinian remained steadfast, with many suggesting it was the persuasion of his wife that saw him stay. So he devised a cunning plan to end the revolution.
He sent out a popular eunuch who was unarmed and with a bag of gold coins. As the supporters of the opposing charioteers gathered to crown their new emperor, he approached one side, the blue supporters and handed over the gold coins. He reminded them that Justinian supported their team, and the man they were crowning was a supporter of their opponents, the greens. With that the blue supporters left the stadium, right in the middle of the coronation. But that was not the end, it was far from over, and about to become excessively violent.
As the blues fled the hippodrome, emperor Justinian sent in the troops. They slaughtered rioters in their thousands. Once the dust had settled it revealed the true extent of the devastation.
Total cost of the worst sports riot in history:
- 30,000+ killed
- Half the city of Constantinople destroyed