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Last Updated: Monday, 27 March 2006, 09:10 GMT 10:10 UK
Tim Vickery column
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

Last week a Paraguayan league game ended early because of objects being thrown from the stands.

The local FA responded by banning clubs from handing out free tickets to their organised groups of diehard supporters - the "Barras Bravas".

Fans of Argentinian side Boca Juniors
This glimpse into bizarro world is typical of South American football, and helps explain why football violence is proving so hard to eradicate
The groups were predictably outraged.

Zoilo Ramirez, head of the "Barra" of Cerro Porteņo, the country's most popular club, described the decision as absurd.

He claims that it will only make the situation worse. The implication being that supporters may resort to violence to get money to pay for their tickets.

Few would be surprised if once the heat dies down the decision is quietly overturned, or if it is only ever enacted half-heartedly.

This glimpse into bizarro world is all too typical of South American football, and helps explain why the problem of football violence is proving so hard to eradicate.

England's FA has a tie-in with the South American Federation.

Based on the experience picked up in the bad old days, the FA run courses on how to counter hooliganism.

There is plenty of useful information that can be imparted. But there are also two obvious problems.

One concerns resources. South American club football is poor. There are first division games in Paraguay that attract less than 300 spectators.

Funding and maintaining the full paraphernalia required in effective surveillance operations will not be easy.

But even more serious is the question of political will.

There is a vital difference between hooliganism in England and in South America - the relationship between the club and the thugs.

In England the clubs lived in denial for years, as if the hooligans had nothing to do with them.

In South America the clubs have frequently acted as fomenters of the organised gangs.

This is mainly due to the historic structure of the vast majority of South American clubs.

Rather than private companies with shareholders, they are associations with members.

Thus a promiscuous relationship is formed between unscrupulous directors and potentially violent fans

The position of club president is a post elected by the members.

In this electoral process it can be very useful to have a rent-a-goon army.

They can serve as opinion-formers on the terraces, they can intimidate opponents - and they can even be of service in non-football activities that club bigwigs might be involved in.

Thus a promiscuous relationship is formed between unscrupulous directors and potentially violent fans.

The problem goes especially deep in Argentina.

A year ago Colon goalkeeper, Tombolini, went on the record and blew the worst kept secret in the country - that the players are expected to make a financial contribution - which in theory covers the travel expenses of the "Barras Bravas".

Meanwhile the death toll from fan violence in Argentina keeps rising.

In Uruguay the championship is currently suspended after a fan was tragically jumped on at a bus stop by a group of rival supporters and knifed to death in front of his wife and 11-year-old son.

A pause for reflection is clearly appropriate.

But until the clubs truly throw their weight into the fight against hooliganism then these scenes are likely to be repeated.

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12 Jul 05 |  World Football


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