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Argentina’s hooligans: the endless cycle of football violence

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

Argentina President Mauricio Macri admitted 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.

Windows on the bus were shattered with players suffering cuts and breathing difficulties from the pepper spray.

The presidents of both clubs insist the violence was caused by just “10 or 15 misfits,” but for sociologist Diego Murzi, hooligans or barra bravas are deeply entrenched in the country’s football-related activities.

“In Argentina there is a football culture in which violence is legitimate, and not just by the ‘barras’ but by everyone who takes part,” said Murzi, a researcher at the University of San Martin.

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

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

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

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

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

Off the pitch, hooligans run mafia empires around Argentine football “in collusion with the police, clubs and political authorities,” according to Monica Nizzardo, the founder of the Salvemos Al Futbol (Let’s Save Football) charity.

It says 305 people have been killed in Argentina in football related violence in the last 50 years.

Because of this, Argentine football authorities barred away fans from grounds in 2013, but it has made little difference. Four people this year have been killed and 137 in the last 20 years.

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

The term barra brava which literally means violent (brava) groups (barra) was coined in the 1940s by the press to describe hooligans.  -AFP

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