Last night European basketball and sport as whole suffered a senseless loss with the murder of Marko Ivkovic, a Crvena Zvezda fan, in Istanbul. BallinEurope’s editor Emmet Ryan offers his thoughts.
It doesn’t matter that Galatasaray won in double overtime. It doesn’t matter that Marcus Williams set a new assists record. It definitely doesn’t matter that Zoran Erceg was named Round 6 MVP for his performance in the game. All of this is irrelevant because of what happened before the ball was tipped.
Marko Ivkovic, a 25 year old Crvena Zvezda fan, died after being stabbed in the heart along the route to the stadium. It is a tragedy that has no place in sport or any facet of life. The loss was senseless. There is no circumstance where violence of any kind, let alone death, should be a part of what we as fans experience.
Euroleague president Jordi Bertomeu said this tragedy “offends the true spirit of sports” and “Violence has no place in our game, at our arenas or anywhere near them. It’s just the opposite. Respect between rivals dedicated to the same ideals should bring us all together. That is why we organise and play sports. Today, we must all refocus on those ideals.”
He’s right but many of you, while reading this, are already forgetting about the horror that happened. We, as sports fans, have become too used to violence at and around arenas across Europe. We may not be the nefarious actors but they exist because we let them and I am as guilty as the rest of you.
Last week when I saw footage of clashes at the ABA Liga game between Levski Sofia and Partizan, I went through the same set of emotions anyone watching from afar would have. First the reaction along the lines of ‘oh not again’ and then ‘are my buddies ok?’ (they were) and then I moved on to something else.
The reaction online to the loss of Marko Ivkovic was near universal grief and condemnation. We are good people, we know this act was abhorrent. Can Pelister, a sports journalist, had to carry out a duty no-one assigned to report on basketball should ever be tasked with in covering this tragedy. He did so with professionalism. The blame game has only just kicked off. There may be actions taken or there may be not. Irrespective of that we know there will be counter reactions and condemnations and eventually the wind will be taken out of this story.
Ivkovic’s friends and family will be stuck with the grief for as long as they live but we, the fans, will move on. We have become accustomed to violence at our games and while we don’t like it, we expect it to happen and at best look for someone to do something about it. Well that’s not okay.
Marko Ivkovic’s blood is on my hands and your hands because we allow this culture to exist. Marko Ivkovic, 25 years old, died because we have been comfortable leaving the responsibility in the hands of others. Marko Ivkovic’s friends and family will never see him again because we, the good fans, enable this culture of violence by trying to pretend it isn’t there.
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing.
It’s on us, all of us, the overwhelming majority of basketball lovers across Europe and the world to not just say ‘no more’ but to make it no more. It is not okay for us to just look after our own patch and say there’s no trouble there. We are part of one family and it is our collective responsibility to make every arena and its vicinity at every level of this game a safe place to bring actual families.
We don’t need to neuter passion to crush violence. We should not have to ramp up security to esnure nobody thinks it is fine to have any device capable of stabbing another human being with them to the vicinity of an arena. The analogy that sport is war by other means too often involves people forgetting the other means part. We are in competition but not combat.
It’s on us to not even have to police our own. The culture needs to change not so that those who would commit acts of violence won’t come. Merely keeping them away is a grander level of ignoring the problem, leaving it to another aspect of society to fix. We need basketball, we need sport, to be a place where even those who would entertain such thoughts know it is not the done thing. Simply keeping those of violent intent away sweeps the problem under a thicker carpet. It’s on us to make a difference in their lives, to be the better fan, and make them better people.
Sport is an outlet and it can go several ways. It’s impossible to look at the culture of violence in our game without looking at the external influences on socio-political and economic levels across our continent. For some, albeit a minority, it’s used a way to vent through violence. It’s easy for me to condemn from the relative comfort of a coffee shop in Dublin and the immense privilege I have to cover this sport professionally. That however is the road to apathy, the road to ignoring my role in this problem.
Ivkovic’s killer should be prosecuted to bring justice in this case but it can not be the end. Punitive action for one incident can’t do as much for this young man’s memory as positive action to prevent the next such tragedy. No, we must embrace those who would consider acting with violence and show them that sport can be a peaceful release from the frustrations of life. They may not welcome it but that is course we must pursue. That’s the difficult challenge and it’s also the only way to enact real change.
Now is a time for grief. For some it is a time to, justifiably or otherwise, cast blame. For all of us it is time to look in the mirror and recognise that the first step to change lies there.