Argentina’s battle against soccer hooligans more complicated than expected


Argentina finished 2018 with the Copa Libertadores fiasco and started 2019 with nearly 700 people barred from attending soccer matches in an election year in which the government claims to have ended a “perverse system” and critics contend the bans have been implemented in an “arbitrary” manner.

Guillermo Madero, the official in charge of overseeing security at soccer matches, told EFE that the approval of legislation backed by the government put an end to the soccer hooligans by classifying their groups as criminal organizations.

“We had a perverse system here that was promoted by groups, backed by them and leaders, police officers ... They controlled everything,” Madero, who heads the Tribuna Segura (Safe Bleachers) program, said.

On a whiteboard in one corner of his office, Madero has written the figures compiled by Tribuna Segura since its main policy, identifying those entering stadiums, was implemented.

Since the program was launched in 2016, more than 5,000 people have been barred from entering stadiums and 521 subjects wanted by judicial authorities have been arrested.

Last Friday, 102 suspected Boca Juniors hooligans were denied admission to a match and Madero said another 168 supporters of the Buenos Aires-based club would be banned from stadiums on Monday.

Argentina is scheduled to hold its presidential election in October and Madero said a change in administration would be “a great setback.”

Madero said there was resistance among soccer club executives to “changing the paradigm” because they feared threats from hooligans who had the support of police and possibly some officials.

The latest push to curb soccer-related violence comes in the wake of the Copa Libertadores final that pitted Boca Juniors against crosstown arch-rival River Plate.

The first leg of the series was played on Nov. 11 at Boca’s La Bombonera Stadium and ended in a 2-2 draw. Away fans had been barred from both legs of the final as a precautionary measure.

Fans hurled projectiles in a Nov. 24 attack on Boca’s team bus as it headed toward River Plate’s El Monumental Stadium for the second leg, shattering some of the vehicle’s windows.

Police used pepper spray to disperse the assailants, affecting some Boca players.

The South American Soccer Confederation (Conmebol), which organizes the Copa Libertadores, postponed the final.

Conmebol decided on Nov. 29 that Real Madrid’s stadium would be the venue for the match between River and Boca Juniors.

The Copa Libertadores final was played on Dec. 9 and River Plate won 3-1.

“Personally, I felt really bad because three years’ work appeared to have been snuffed out in the blink of an eye,” Madero said, referring to the Copa Libertadores fiasco.

Madero, however, said his program had worked “well that day” by uncovering a system for reselling tickets that resulted in 284 members of the Los Borrachos del Tablon, a group of hooligans who support River Plate being barred.

Investigators are looking at the role played by River Plate executives in a country where the top officials of clubs have links to the government and judicial authorities.

Sociologist Diego Murzi, vice president of the non-governmental organization Salvemos al Futbol (SAF), said that while banning resales of tickets “is a good idea,” the problem of is more complicated.

“Management doesn’t give away free tickets just because they’re afraid of the hooligans, there’s a trade going on ... These are structures for reproducing power that exist, so they always end up protecting one another,” Murzi said.

The sociologist said “something changed” when the current administration took power, but he is not convinced that the law targeting hooligans will work.

“The idea of classifying the soccer hooligans legally is impossible,” Murzi said, adding that barring admission to stadiums is a “good idea” but also “fertile ground for arbitrariness.”

By Pablo Ramon Ochoa