NEW DELHI: At least 40 people have died and dozens have been injured in clashes and an ensuing stampede at a football game between two Cairo clubs, Zamalek and Enppi, in an army-run stadium in the Egyptian capital.

According to reports, clashes broke out between Zamalek football club supporters and police, as barricades were set up and tear gas used to disperse the fans from tryings to force their way into the stadium. “Huge numbers of Zamalek club fans came to Air Defence Stadium to attend the match ... and tried to storm the stadium gates by force, which prompted the troops to prevent them from continuing the assault," Egypt’s Interior Ministry said in a statement, adding that the fans in questions, known as the Ultras White Knights, tried to attend the game without purchasing tickets.

However, the violence has political undertones, as relations between the government and the Ultras have been tense since the latter played a key role in ending the rule of Hosni Mubarak. Clashes outside stadiums are commonplace throughout Egypt, and the security forces have on numerous occasions been accused of using excessive force.

In 2012, 72 people were killed in fighting between supporters at a football game between El Masry and El Ahly clubs. Thousands of El Masry spectators stormed the stadium stands and the pitch, following a 3–1 victory by El Masry, violently attacking the El Ahly fans. El Ahly fans, mainly Ultras Ahlawy (and ultras group), were specifically targeted. Their political leanings -- anti-SCAF and anti-government -- was a major motive for the attack, with many Egyptians believing that the Port Said incident was a setup to get rid from the revolutionary group.

Following the Port Said riots, the number of people allowed to attend matches has been curbed and clashes have become increasingly frequent.

Politics, of course, is not new to sports, and definitely not new to football. The famous “Football War” between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969 had little to do with football, with a brief war being fought between the two countries coinciding with rioting during the second North American qualifying round of the 1970 FIFA World Cup. The context was centred on issues relating to land reform in Honduras and immigration and demographic problems in El Salvador. The precursor to the rioting and the war was a new land reform law enacted by the government in Honduras -- which had bowed to pressure from a conglomerate of large companies that were anti-campesino as well as anti-Salvadoran -- to protect the property rights of wealthy landowners. The football game however, proved to be a flashpoint of this war.

Another example of a football linked to bloodshed and conflict is the Croatian War of Independence. The precursor was riots between the Bad Blue Boys (fans of Dinamo Zagreb) and the Delije (fans of Red Star Belgrade) and came to represent two political factions, with their colours -- red or blue -- symbolizing their leanings.

In addition to politicized clashes involving fans, football games have also been the stage for other forms of violence with political objectives. In July 2010, twin suicide bombings at an Ethiopian restaurant and a rugby club in Kampala, Uganda, killed 76 and injured at least 85 people -- who had gathered to watch the FIFA World Cup. Al Shabaab -- the militant group behind the infamous and brutal attack on the West Gate Mall in Nairobi last year that killed 67 people -- claimed responsibility. The group, active in Kenya and Somalia, has branched out in Uganda for the latter’s role in contributing fighters to the African Union force.

In July 2007, two suicide bombers in Baghdad killed 50 people and injured 135 celebrating the Iraqi national team’s victory in the Asian Cup finals. In 2002, the Basque separatist organisation ETA was behind a car bomb near Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu stadium hours before a European Champions League semi-final, injuring dozens.

Of course, political violence in sports is not by any means limited to football. One of the most brutal incidents of politically-motivated violence in sports was during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany, where eleven Israeli Olympic team members, who were taken hostage and eventually killed, along with a German police officer, by the Palestinian group Black September. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the context, with the Black September group demanding 234 prisoners jailed in Israel and the German-held founders of the Red Army Faction (Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof) be released. On a side note, Israel itself has been accused of violence relating to sports -- specifically of targeting Palestinian football players.

In fact, the Israel-Palestinian conflict is the reason behind objection to Israel bidding to host the 2020 European Championship, known as Euro 2020. A recent letter, signed by Desmond Tutu and Alice Walker, among others, called for UEFA to keep Jerusalem off the list of host cities as “Israel continues to perpetuate its devastating military occupation of the Palestinian territories, flouts international law, totally disregards UN resolutions, and imprisons hundreds of Palestinians, including children, without charge.”

This sort of attempted boycott is perhaps most famously associated with Apartheid-era South Africa. The International Olympic Committee withdrew its invitation to South Africa to the 1964 Summer Olympics when interior minister Jan de Klerk insisted the team would not be racially integrated. South Africa also faced boycotts from athletics, cricket, golf, rugby, football, tennis and table tennis federations.

Similarly, like football, other sports too have been the targets of militant and terror activity. In 2013, two pressure cooker bombs exploded during the Boston Marathon, killing 3 people and injuring an estimated 264 others, with the FBI concluding that the brothers behind the attacks -- Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev -- were motivated by extremist Islamic beliefs.

In 2008, a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber killed 15 and injured over 100 in an attack targeting a marathon race near Colombo, Sri Lanka. Among those killed were the Highway Minister of Sri Lanka, who also served as a government peace negotiator, and the marathon coach of the Sri Lankan national team. In this particular incident, the context was the Sri Lankan civil war, with the Tamil Tigers, byname of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), being motivated by the political goal of an independent Tamil state, Eelam, in northern and eastern Sri Lanka.

Cricket has also been targeted, with a dozen Lashkar-e-Jhangvi terrorists attacking the Sri Lankan cricket team’s bus near the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, Pakistan in 2009. In fact, militancy in Pakistan -- that is aimed at overthrowing the Pakistani state -- has affected cricket in particular, and sports in general, in the country by raising questions regarding the security of touring teams. In May 2002, New Zealand abandoned their Test series in Pakistan after a suicide bomb attack outside their hotel. In fact, the Sri Lankan cricket team was in Pakistan at the time of the attack as a replacement for the Indian cricket team -- with India having called off the tour following the Mumbai terror attacks carried out by Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba. In 2004, the Lashkar-e-Taiba had even issued a fatwa against cricket.

This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list indicating the link between sports and politically-motivated violence, but it does beg the question: why? At one level, sports is a unifying factor, bringing together diverse communities. However, despite loud proclamations by governments and nations that sports is independent of politics, its history has always been political.

The most violent riots in the history of Constantinople were the Nika riots in 532 AD. The Ancient Roman and Byzantine Empires were organised through well-developed associations, known as demes, which supported different factions or teams in certain sporting events, particularly chariot racing -- linking sports and politics seamlessly. The Nika riots broke out at the Hippodrome but like modern-day riots had little to do with the sport in question and more to do with political outcomes, here specifically the overthrow of Emperor Justinian.

Modern-day has been no different. Sport has been deliberated used as an extension of politics, and the Cold War era is a clear example where this extension was deliberate and unconcealed. Today, for example, a victory for the Indian cricket team in the cricket World Cup is seen as a victory for India. India’s greatest sporting rivalry is its greatest political rivalry: Pakistan. Sports is politics. The sporting boycott of Apartheid-era South Africa and today’s Israel can be located in this political context.

The major issue, however, is the insistence that sports and politics should be kept separate. The more pragmatic approach is to recognize the close relationship between the two, and work toward insulating sport from violent politics -- a measure that no progress can be made on if current divisions (adopted in rhetoric and theory but not enforced in practice) continue.