by Hoang Anh
Tit for tat?
This is the question that has been buzzing around town as Thursday approaches, especially among the nation's avid football fans.
Of course, the root of the debate around this question goes back to last Sunday in Kuala Lumpur, when, in the first leg of the AFF-Suzuki semifinal match between Viet Nam and Malaysia, fans of the host teams violently attacked visiting Vietnamese fans.
The picture of a Vietnamese fan covering his bleeding head with his hands went viral on the media and on the Internet, provoking shock and anger in Viet Nam.
The second leg of the semifinal will be played at the My Dinh Stadium in Ha Noi tomorrow, and one would assume that ardent football fans in Malaysia will be there in droves to support their team.
Time to return the favour, some Vietnamese fans have argued.
Thankfully, these are in the minority, and the vast majority of Vietnamese have not only opposed the idea but also strongly condemned it.
Revenge in this form is not in the right competitive spirit, they have argued, and qualified the argument by saying such behaviour would be degrading and shameful.
I agree, and think this is an appropriate occasion to look at ourselves.
We have always been proud of our tradition to "replace brutality with morality, return violence with kindness," as Nguyen Trai, a true Vietnamese national hero, poet and politician, wrote.
Nguyen Le Duy, a long time supporter of the national team, reflected the tradition when he said, "I'm deeply disappointed to hear about what happened, but a small number of hooligans do not represent the country. I think Malaysian fans who travel all the way Viet Nam to support their team are true football fans and I will be more than happy to welcome them."
Another fan, Hoang Quoc Tung, who will be in the stadium on Thursday, said, "I hope the Vietnamese team win and advance to the final, but even more, I hope there won't be another incident like the one that happened last Sunday."
Then he went further. "This is a chance to show them that we are a peaceful and friendly people.
"How are we going to teach our children about the value of forgiveness if we attack them for what they did to our fans?"
Many Vietnamese fans have even reproached their brethren visiting the Facebook page of Malaysian midfielder (No. 8) to berate him for his tackles during the first-leg match.
Many fans have approached this whole incident from another perspective.
They have called on Vietnamese hooligans to reflect on their behaviour, now that they can see how a country's or a city's image can be easily be smeared by the irresponsible actions of a few individuals.
Indeed. The violence that took place in Kuala Lumpur is not unheard of in Viet Nam.
In May 2008, a fight broke out among fans after the match between Hai Phong FC and Song Lam Nghe An that resulted in several people getting injured and the visiting team's fans being held up inside the stadium for hours, unable to leave for fear of being attacked.
In January 2012, fans blocked a bus that was taking Thanh Hoa FC's players out of HCM city after a game. Stones were thrown at the bus and a player was injured. The police were required to escort the players to safety.
In May 2012, two fans were prosecuted for attacking a referee after a match between Hai Phong FC and Dong Thap because they believed the latter's unfair handling of the game was responsible for their team's loss.
"Hooligans are a threat to true sport fans and they are everywhere. We have them here too and I hope we won't repeat the same mistake by taking it out blindly on innocent Malaysian fans who are coming over," said Nguyen Thi Thanh Thao, a female fan.
After seeing our compatriots suffer from hooliganism in a foreign country, perhaps our own fans will think twice before turning to violence as a means to demonstrate their love for sports.
The Viet Nam Football Federation has said that additional security measures will be taken to ensure the safety of Malaysian fans in the second-leg match on Thursday in Ha Noi.
But we should do more than ensure their safety. We should make them feel welcome. We should show Malaysians and citizens of all other countries in the world that, when they visit Viet Nam, we will go out of our way to make them feel at home.
If we do this, it will be a victory everyone will cherish forever. — VNS