Hooli­gans ruin yet an­other match

Ar­gentina grap­ples with never-end­ing cy­cle of vi­o­lence

Global Times - Weekend - - SPORTS - AFP

The em­bar­rass­ing post­pone­ment of the Copa Lib­er­ta­dores fi­nal thrust Ar­gentina’s hooli­gan prob­lem back into the spot­light, as well as so­ci­ety’s ac­cep­tance that it is part of foot­ball fan cul­ture, an­a­lysts say.

Ar­gen­tine Pres­i­dent Mauri­cio Macri ad­mit­ted there had been a “se­cu­rity fail­ure” on Novem­ber 24 when Boca Ju­niors’ team bus came un­der at­tack from River Plate fans hurl­ing pep­per spray, stones and sticks. Win­dows on the bus were shat­tered with play­ers suf­fer­ing cuts and breath­ing dif­fi­cul­ties from the pep­per spray.

The pres­i­dents of both clubs in­sist the vi­o­lence was caused by just “10 or 15 mis­fits,” but for so­ci­ol­o­gist Diego Murzi, hooli­gans – or barra bravas – are deeply en­trenched in the coun­try’s foot­ball-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties.

“In Ar­gentina there is a foot­ball cul­ture in which vi­o­lence is le­git­i­mate, and not just by the ‘bar­ras’ but by ev­ery­one who takes part,” said Murzi, a re­searcher at the Uni­ver­sity of San Martin.

It was a week­end of shame for Ar­gen­tine foot­ball that un­folded af­ter au­thor­i­ties failed to pro­tect Boca’s play­ers on their bus trip across town to River’s Mon­u­men­tal sta­dium.

Ar­gentina prides it­self on its fever­ish foot­ball fans while Boca and River are lauded for what many ac­knowl­edge as the great­est derby ri­valry in the world. But it has reached the point where be­hav­ior oth­er­wise con­sid­ered un­ac­cept­able in so­ci­ety is even cel­e­brated, such as xeno­pho­bic chant­ing, in­sults and threats to mur­der ri­vals.

The vi­o­lence is fu­eled by a be­lief that foot­ball is not “a clean game with le­git­i­mate re­sults,” ex­perts say.

“If fans feel that the matches are won through deals amongst club bosses more than on the field, this feel­ing of in­jus­tice pro­vides fer­tile ground for the hooli­gans’ vi­o­lence,” Murzi, a stu­dent of foot­ball vi­o­lence, told AFP.

‘Po­lice and po­lit­i­cal col­lu­sion’

Off the pitch, hooli­gans run mafia em­pires around Ar­gen­tine foot­ball “in col­lu­sion with the po­lice, clubs and po­lit­i­cal au­thor­i­ties,” ac­cord­ing to Mon­ica Niz­zardo, the founder of the Salve­mos Al Fut­bol (Let’s Save Foot­ball) char­ity.

It says 305 peo­ple have been killed in Ar­gentina in foot­ball-re­lated vi­o­lence in the last 50 years. Be­cause of this, Ar­gen­tine foot­ball au­thor­i­ties barred away fans from grounds in 2013, but it has made lit­tle dif­fer­ence. Four peo­ple this year have been killed and 137 in the last 20 years.

The barra bravas were born out of a cul­ture that viewed fight­ing against ri­vals as an ex­pres­sion of pas­sion to­wards one’s own team.

The term “barra brava” – which lit­er­ally means vi­o­lent (brava) groups (barra) – was coined in the 1940s by the press to de­scribe hooli­gans.

But those street brawlers mu­tated into or­ga­nized crim­i­nals laun­der­ing mil­lions in dirty money, ex­perts say.

“In the 1980s they started to ac­quire a pro­file linked to crime and in the 1990s they got a com­mer­cial edge, us­ing their knowl­edge of foot­ball-re­lated vi­o­lence to their own ben­e­fit,” said Murzi.

Hence, in col­lu­sion with first the clubs and then po­lice, they took con­trol of tick­et­ing re­sales and then park­ing around the sta­dium, as well as food trucks and other busi­nesses that of­fer at­trac­tive prof­its. But they have con­tin­ued to ex­pand their horizons to “ac­tiv­i­ties out­side the foot­ball world, like par­tic­i­pa­tion in po­lit­i­cal, union and crim­i­nal acts,” added Murzi.

‘Er­ro­neous so­lu­tions’

“The au­thor­i­ties’ ap­proach is al­ways the same: to think that the prob­lem is due to a group of sav­ages, but that’s an overly sim­pli­fied per­spec­tive that leads to er­ro­neous so­lu­tions,” said Murzi.

Sev­eral times au­thor­i­ties have tar­geted the lead­er­ship of the barra bravas, jail­ing no­to­ri­ous chief­tains such as the late Jose “the Grand­fa­ther” Bar­rita, chief of “The Dozen” hooli­gans from the Boca neigh­bor­hood in Bueno Aires, or Alan Sch­lenker, the head hon­cho of River’s hooli­gans, cur­rently serv­ing life in prison.

How­ever, that didn’t pre­vent the hooli­gan­ism net­works sur­viv­ing with new lead­ers.

“The prob­lem is that no one wants to put an end to crim­i­nal busi­ness in foot­ball, least of all club bosses,” says Niz­zardo.

Murzi says there’s no magic so­lu­tion but that “in­ves­ti­gat­ing the col­lu­sion be­tween hooli­gans and the po­lice would be a good start­ing point.”

“They work to­gether. The po­lice con­trib­ute more to the prob­lem than to the so­lu­tion.”

Clubs pay for the po­lice to pro­vide se­cu­rity at matches and that’s an im­por­tant source of rev­enue that pays po­lice salaries.

“All the po­lice know the hooli­gans and it suits them for the hooli­gans to ex­ist,” says Murzi, who also blames the press and politi­cians for feed­ing the beast.

“If the press... says it’s a fi­nal to kill or die for and the pres­i­dent [Macri] says the losers will have to leave the coun­try from em­bar­rass­ment, the fans feel they have a rep­u­ta­tion to up­hold. “It would have been a sur­prise if noth­ing had hap­pened. Ar­gentina is a long way from be­ing a coun­try in which there is re­spect for one’s op­po­nent, not just at the sport­ing level but po­lit­i­cally too.”

Boca Ju­niors mid­fielder Pablo Perez (left), wear­ing an eye patch, is seen on the pitch along­side team doc­tor Pablo Ortega Gallo dur­ing the se­cond-leg fi­nal match of the Copa Lib­er­ta­dores on Novem­ber 24 in Buenos Aires, Ar­gentina.

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