Fri, Dec 27, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Rise in fan violence casts shadow over World Cup

Brazil and Russia are struggling to control a rising tide of soccer violence as the global spotlight shines on the future hosts of the next two FIFA World Cup tournaments

By Owen Gibson  /  The Guardian

In addition to brawls, nationalist and racist chanting is a problem, especially when black players or teams from Russia’s mainly Muslim south are playing. In September, Zenit St Petersburg fans burned a Chechen flag during a game with Terek Grozny.

Last month, Dynamo Moscow goalkeeper Anton Shunin was briefly hospitalized after an incident in which he was struck by a flare thrown by a fan during a game against Zenit and received burns to one of his eyes. The match was abandoned, Dynamo were given a 3-0 automatic victory and Zenit were ordered to play two matches behind closed doors. Also last month, there were clashes as Spartak Moscow played away at second-tier Shinnik Yaroslavl. Police had to use water cannons to disperse fighting supporters and the game also became notorious when photographs circulated online of Spartak fans unveiling a Nazi flag during the game.

Italy: players still in fear

By Paolo Bandini

US Salernitana’s 1919 game at home to ASG Nocerina last month lasted just 20 minutes. That was all it took for the visitors to lose five players to “injury,” leaving them with only six on the pitch. They had used up all three of their substitutions in the second minute.

Clearly, this was no accident. Nocerina’s players had been reluctant to take the field in the first place after receiving death threats from their own supporters — 200 of whom had shown up at training a day earlier, warning them not to go ahead. The ultras were acting in protest after local authorities banned all away fans from attending the local derby.

Their actions were greeted with disgust in Italy, but all too little surprise. Fan violence forced bigger games to be halted before. Salernitana and Nocerina play in the Lega Pro Prima Divisione — the third-tier — but as recently as April last year, a top-flight match between Genoa and AC Siena had to be suspended for 45 minutes after ultras began demanding the shirts off their players’ backs.

These are extreme examples, but there have been many less high-profile instances of fan violence directed at both players and at rival supporters. Just this month, three Ajax fans were stabbed before their team’s Champions League visit to AC Milan. More than once in the last year, team buses have been assaulted on their way to and from games. Various measures have been taken in a bid to stem the tide, from the introduction of the much-maligned tessera del tifoso — a mandatory fan ID card — to the temporary closure of individual stands in some stadiums.

Police statistics show that the number of fans injured at matches has dropped sharply since the beginning of 2006, but this problem is still a long way from being resolved.

Africa: Hooliganism tends to be spontaneous, not planned

By Paul Doyle

African soccer tends not to be afflicted by hooliganism in the same way that Europe and South America are. Which is not to say that violence is much rarer, far from it. It is only that it tends not to be instigated by organized groups who go to matches with the intention of causing trouble.

Rather, the violence tends to be spontaneous, erupting in response to perceived refereeing injustices or disappointing results. For instance, Senegal had to play the home leg of their World Cup playoff against Ivory Coast at a neutral venue because of the rioting that broke out in Dakar, the Senegalese capital, when the same opponents beat them in the previous year’s Africa Cup of Nations playoff. There are exceptions. For example, in Nigeria there are organized groups who seek to exert influence through violence and intimidation, in some cases with clubs’ tacit support or blatant complicity. In this season’s Nigerian Premier League, two clubs were ordered to play matches behind closed doors after fan violence, while the critical title decider between Kano Pillars and Enyimba International had to be replayed after a pitch invasion by home fans.

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