Fan violence mars Brazilian football match

Posted by Tim Vickery

RIO DE JANEIRO -- One of the wisest quotes I know about the global game comes from the Liverpool academic Rogan Taylor. "Football," he says, "is like strong beer. Some people just can’t take it."

So many times in Brazil I have been asked how it came to pass that English football eliminated its problem of violence. I always answer that such thinking is dangerously complacent. The problem is never eliminated. Crowd psychology being what it is, the possibility of a violent flare-up always exists -- and therefore such risks need to be taken into account when the spectacle is being organised.

This clearly did not happen on Sunday in Brazil. The last round of the championship always generates strong emotions, which spilled into tragedy in the match between Atletico Paranaense and Vasco da Gama.

There was plenty at stake for both teams -- Vasco trying to avoid relegation to the second division, while Atletico were seeking to secure a place in next year’s version of the Copa Libertadores, South America’s equivalent of the Champions League.

Atletico were the home side. But the game did not take place in their city of Curitiba, in the south of Brazil. As a punishment for supporter behaviour in a previous game, Atletico had to stage the match at least 100 kilometers away. The chosen venue, which Atletico have already used this year, was Joinville, in the neighbouring state of Santa Catarina.

This state has adopted a curious, and surely utopian, practice. Security inside the stadiums is not provided by the normal police, but by private companies. For this game, with an electrical emotional charge, such a strategy was clearly insufficient.

The ground was nowhere near full, and a huge space existed between the supporters of both sides. But there was nothing to stop fans moving round the stadium -- no line of security guards, no fences to divide the ground into sectors.

The emotional stakes were raised still higher when Atletico took an early lead. Within minutes groups of rival fans were meeting in pitched battles on the bleachers. As the kicks, punches and iron bar blows flowed, three supporters were left in a state of coma. A huge national TV audience witnessed scenes of revolting violence -- scenes which will take on an extra international dimension because so many representatives of the global media are still in Brazil following Friday’s World Cup draw.

Thankfully, however, a repetition of such scenes next June and July is surely highly unlikely. There are, clearly, security concerns. In addition to Brazil’s street crime and the possibility of political protest getting out of control, there is also the near certainty that thousands of Argentine fans will cross the border to follow their team. The chance of a violent flare-up always exists.

But it is almost impossible that such a thing could happen inside the stadiums. For a start there will be a level of organisation and adequate risk analysis that was so glaringly absent from Sunday’s match in Joinville. And also because, in terms of the Brazilian context, the national team has always attracted a different type of fan from the club game. The follower of the Selecao is usually more middle class and less inclined to get involved in the fierce rivalries that move Brazilian club football -- and which currently give Brazil the totally undesirable title of current world leader in football-related fatalities.

The dreadful scenes of Sunday, then, hopefully have little connection with the mega-event set to take place in seven months’ time. But if the global impact of the scenes in Joinville help concentrate minds on the dangers inherent in the gathering of a crowd, at least something positive will have emerged from a black Sunday for Brazilian football.

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