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

Kano and Enyimba both have sets of battle-ready supporters who congregate in a particular section of their stadiums (Kano’s volatile fringe dub their chosen hangout in the stands “Iraq,” while Enyimba fans call their equivalent spot “Colombia”). Since there tend not to be many traveling fans, the targets of violence tend to be opposition players or, most commonly, referees. The Nigerian league has vowed to increase ground suspensions and club fines after referees threatened to go on strike in protest at their regular persecution.

Elsewhere, orchestrated violence at soccer events has been rooted in political upheaval or social unrest, as in Egypt’s infamous Port Said massacre in February last year, when 79 people were killed. Then clashes between fans of Al-Masry and Al-Ahly were fueled and facilitated by police and military, seemingly as retribution for the involvement of Al-Ahly fans in the Tahrir Square uprising the previous year. When 21 supporters were sentenced to death for their role in that disaster, riots broke out in protest at the severity of the punishment and the perceived scapegoating of fans while agents provocateurs in authority escaped.

Mauritius made a radical attempt to eliminate politically motivated soccer violence more than a decade ago, when regular fighting eventually led to catastrophe. A title-decider between the mostly Muslim-supported Scouts Club and Creole club Fire Brigade degenerated into rioting that spread far beyond the stadium and lasted for a week, causing seven fatalities. The Mauritian league was suspended for more than eight months and a huge restructuring was launched, with several clubs disbanded and none allowed to reform along ethnic or religious lines, only regional ones. The measure worked in the most important sense: it has prevented repeats of such violence at soccer games, but the league has yet to recover as, with their traditional clubs gone, fans tend to restrict their supporting to European leagues on TV.

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