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Murder And Mayhem In Argentine Soccer

  • Guardian, Thursday, December 4, 2008 1:15 PM
Officially, the death toll inside Argentine soccer stadiums over the years numbers 185, writes Joel Richards. According to the organization Salvemos al fútbol (Let's Save Football) there have been 232 deaths. "The official statistics only include incidents that take place inside grounds," said Mónica Nizzardo, a lawyer who works with the group. "They ignore victims in clashes outside the stadiums, which are crimes that of course have everything to do with football."

Richards catalogues a depressing cyclical pattern of violence in the Argentine game, fueled by rivalries between clubs such as San Lorenzo and Huracan, whose clasico last weekend had to be played at the neutral Bombonera, home of Boca Juniors, to try and defuse a game where violence and vandalism have become the norm. Last month a Huracan fan was murdered by San Lorenzo followers, rumored to be revenge for Huracan fans looting and vandalizing San Lorenzo club facilities, then stealing a huge club flag and burning it.

"Football helps you find moments of happiness," said Huracán coach Ángel Cappa the week before the game. "The clásico is a special match for everyone, but football cannot take over everything the way it does in Argentina. There are more important things in life." He joined San Lorenzo coach Miguel Ángel Russo and the two clubs' presidents on national TV to appeal for peace. Huracán president Carlos Babington admitted that he will not take his children to the game.

After a freak rainstorm caused the game to be abandoned after 16 minutes, the rest of the game was played a few days later, but both games went off without incident as 1,100 riot police stood by. The leaders of the Huracán and San Lorenzo barra brava had agreed a ceasefire, but Richards says that "nobody expects it to be respected now that the clásico is finally out of the way." Cappa's appeal that "this is only football, it's not about life and death" has, in Argentina at least, been proven untrue too often to have the ring of credibility.


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