Argentina’s endless cycle of soccer violence

AFP, BUENOS AIRES

Thu, Nov 29, 2018 - Page 16

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

Argentine President Mauricio Macri admitted that there had been a “security failure” on Saturday when Boca Juniors’ team bus came under attack from River Plate fans hurling pepper spray, stones and sticks.

The presidents of both clubs claim that the violence was caused by just “10 or 15 misfits,” but for University of San Martin sociologist Diego Murzi, who studies soccer violence, hooligans — or barra bravas — are deeply entrenched in the country’s soccer-related activities.

“In Argentina, there is a soccer culture in which violence is legitimate, and not just by the barras, but by everyone who takes part,” Murzi said.

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

Argentina prides itself on its feverish soccer fans, while Boca and River are lauded for what many acknowledge as the greatest derby rivalry in the world.

However, it has reached the point where behavior otherwise considered unacceptable is celebrated, such as xenophobic chanting, insults and threats to murder rivals.

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

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

Off the pitch, hooligans run mafia empires around Argentine soccer “in collusion with the police, clubs and political authorities,” said Monica Nizzardo, founder of charity Salvemos Al Futbol, or Let’s Save Soccer.

Nizzardo said 305 people have been killed in Argentina in soccer-related violence over the past 50 years.

Argentine soccer authorities barred away fans from grounds in 2013, but it has made little difference. Four people this year have been killed.

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

The term barra brava — which literally means “violent groups” — was coined in the 1940s by journalists to describe hooligans.

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

“If the media... say 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,” Murzi said. “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.”