Mass brawls, attacks as football violence spreads in Latin America

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Sao Paulo (AFP) – A series of violent outbreaks, including several fatal ones, suggest fan unrest in Latin American football is spiraling out of control.

Footage of a mass brawl at a match in Mexico on March 5 that left 26 seriously injured and led to 14 arrests has gone viral and drawn attention as the country is set to co-host the 2026 World Cup with the United States and Canada.

On the same evening, there were savage attacks next to a stadium in Palmira, just outside the Colombian city of Cali, between fans of America and Deportivo Cali.

The following day, a man was shot dead during a clash between fans of Atletico Mineiro and Cruzeiro in Brazil.

While academics studying the matter say the end of coronavirus restrictions, which have been blamed for increasing violence in French and English football, is a factor, there are other underlying issues.

“There is no way to end violence in football, it should be very clear,” Heloisa Reis, a professor at Unicamp University in Sao Paulo, told AFP.

“But it can be reduced. For that, a very comprehensive public policy is needed,” said Reis, the author of a book on the issue.

Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru have enacted laws to curb excesses by punishing hooligans with imprisonment or even canceling sporting events.

Some of these initiatives replicate measures in Europe to control hooligans, such as biometric identification or video surveillance in and around stadiums.

“Toxic Masculinity”

After the Querétaro riot, Mexico banned traveling fans from playing – a measure used in Argentina, Brazil and Colombia – but questioned by experts because they say fans are still traveling and the violence is moving in the streets.

Despite their best efforts, the death toll remains huge: 157 in Brazil between 2009 and 2019, 136 in Argentina over the past 20 years and at least 170 in Colombia between 2001 and 2019.

“The great failure of the policies adopted is that they focus exclusively on the security aspect,” explains sociologist German Gomez, researcher at the Colombian Association for Sports Studies.

Experts agree that measures tend to ignore academic studies or social background frustrations related to unemployment, inequality or drug and alcohol use.

Reis argues that the root of the problem is “toxic masculinity.”

Mexico, co-hosts of the 2026 World Cup, mobilized the National Guard for matches after the violence Ulises Ruiz AFP/File

Football matches provide an arena for competition between men to gain power over rivals, especially in their own territory, through physical force.

Reis advocates public policies focused on educating men, but she is not optimistic.

“We have lived under male domination for centuries. The male values ​​reproduced are dominance, strength, courage. Is there a prospect of ending it? There isn’t,” a she declared.

Specialists and fans perceive an increase in violence since the end of Covid restrictions and the return of fans to stadiums.

“These are the consequences of such a prolonged confinement, in which people, when they return to a public event, need to come out of this confinement,” Gomez said.

In Brazil, at least nine incidents have been reported since February 12, including the shooting death of a Palmeiras fan and the stoning of team buses, in which players were injured.

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