The last month saw the return of football to our stadiums and screens a f ter the summer break. But the resumption of sporting hostilities also brought with it a regrettable yet inevitable consequence: scenes of shocking violence that once more drew focus away from the pitch and raised uncomfortable questions about the game across the country.
Mendoza’s Parque San Martín, a sprawling, picturesque space popular with tourists and locals alike in the city, marked one of the flashpoints at the start of 2020. Primera Nacional high-fliers Atlanta had travelled across the country hoping to strengthen their prospects of reaching the promised land of the Superliga against Independiente Rivadavia on the first weekend of fixtures. Instead, Bohemio players and officials were all but forced to flee as the home support turned on each other in a bloody internecine conflict.
A faction of the Independiente barra chose that moment to stake out their own claims for control of the stands, entering the home terrace hooded and wielding clubs and even knives to provoke absolute chaos. Amid wild stampedes, fighting and even a small fire that billowed out of the stands the match itself was stopped after just five minutes of confused action, with suspension duly following when the Atlanta contingent justifiably pointed out they did not feel safe enough to resume playing.
Exactly eight days later and again in the Primera Nacional, Nueva Chicago were the team in the spotlight – in fact even more so thanks to their convenient location in the City of Buenos Aires. Just like in Mendoza, the referee’s whistle to signal kick-off at home to Temperley was the signal for mass combat behind the goals as groups of fans went toe-totoe and others fled for safety. One man needed hospital treatment for a stab wound and two more were treated for other injuries; amazingly, despite the uproar in the stands, the game was halted for only five minutes and reached completion, Chicago scoring a late equaliser to hold Temperley to a 1-1 draw.
On the same weekend, just to show that no level of local football is immune to such ills, Liniers’ home clash against Central Ballester was also abandoned when members of the visiting delegation broke open an iron gate in order to add their own weight to an on-pitch brawl with Liniers winning 1-0.
Perhaps the most miraculous outcome of this latest wave of violence is that nobody was killed or suffered lifethreatening injuries in either of the three most serious incidents. But deaths have occurred before – 322 have lost their lives in football-related violence, according to the tally kept by NGO Salvemos el Fútbol – and while the last fatal casualty was back in December 2018, it is certainly not for want of trying.
Even with away fans banned, since 2006 in the lower leagues and 2013 in Primera/ Superliga rival groups of home supporters continue to have no trouble in attacking each other, aided and abetted by security authorities who are unable or unwilling to remove knives and weapons from troublemakers while harassing everyday fans in their controls.
The punishments for such behaviour are also inconsequential. Chicago and Independiente Rivadavia have seen their stadiums closed and will have to play a certain number of matches behind closed doors; sanctions very similar to those given to River Plate at the start of the year as the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling over the 2018 Copa Libertadores final incidents finally came through.
Until both clubs and the
authorities get serious on supporter violence, and hand
down punishments that hurt
all guilty parties, such distasteful episodes will continue to
repeat themselves on a depressingly regular basis.