Paul Kennedy: World Cup Excesses

It should have been the greatest day in the history of Bajan soccer. Barbados upset Cuba to advance to the semifinals of World Cup 2002 qualifying, where it will face the United States (see Page 6 of the June 5, 2000 issue of Soccer America Magazine), but Bajans are now wondering if theyÆll get a chance to enjoy the action. The Barbados-Cuba game was the latest in a series of early qualifiers to be marred by violence. Bajan fans and Cubans clashed after a Cuban had scored an own goal, tying the game in Bridgetown. Cuban coach William Bennett went down. A pregnant woman and young girl reportedly were hospitalized. And now the Football Confederation and FIFA are left to decide whether to ban Barbados from playing at home. Violence also marred preliminary games in Africa. Three fans were killed during LiberiaÆs home game with Chad. Kenyan fans turned on their team, pelting players and coaches with cans and bottles after it became apparent that Kenya would lose to Malawi. World Cup qualifying has a history of problems. The United States may open World Cup 2002 qualifying at Guatemala CityÆs Mateo Flores Stadium, where dozens of fans died at a qualifier four years ago. FIFA shut down the stadium, but itÆs back in operation. As the World Cup gets bigger and the media pressure grows, so do the excesses. FIFA was right to ban South American teams like Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia from playing qualifiers at midday in altitude. Now it must address off-the-field problems. Almost all the violence stems from poor security. FIFA president Sepp Blatter has asked civil authorities to cooperate with soccer organizers on dealing with the problem. Soccer is a modern sport in so many ways, but it still has a long way to go before it rids itself of the reputation for violence.
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