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Dec 9, 2013

Brazil tries to ease violence fears

Vasco da Gama, four-time Brazilian champions, lost 5-1 to Atletico Paranaense in a match marked by fan violence on Sunday.

SAO PAULO -- As video of Brazilian fans kicking, beating and using metal bars to pummel supporters of a rival team spread across the globe, officials moved quickly to assure people considering coming to the 2014 World Cup that they won't see that type of violence at the global tournament.

A day after four people were hospitalized following clashes in a key match in the final round of the Brazilian league, World Cup organizers said Monday that fan safety will not be a problem during the World Cup.

A fan is taken on a stretcher from the stands to a waiting air ambulance.
A fan is taken on a stretcher from the stands to a waiting air ambulance.

"We can assure that the safety of this event will be guaranteed," said Andrei Augusto Passos Rodrigues, one of the Brazilian government's officials in charge of security during major events. "The lamentable scenes such as the ones that happened yesterday will not be repeated."

But violence around Brazilian football is growing, including about 30 deaths this year. In July, a referee in a village match fatally stabbed a player after an argument. The referee was then stoned and decapitated by the crowd.

In the Brazilian league this year, police and fans clashed in and outside stadiums at least once a month. In most Brazilian games, anyone with a ticket can sit anywhere in the stadium. Rival fans take up separate sections, and taunting and physical confrontations often erupt where the two groups meet.

On Sunday, hundreds of supporters from first-division clubs Atletico Paranaense and Vasco da Gama charged against each other in the southern city of Joinville on Sunday, exchanging punches, kicks and using homemade weapons in the fight that stopped the match for more than an hour. A police helicopter had to land on the field to airlift a man with a serious head injury.

Sunday's match was played in Joinville instead of Atletico Paranaense's base in Curitiba because the club had been punished for fan fighting earlier this year.

The disturbing images from the fight came just two days after FIFA held the draw for the World Cup with an extravagant ceremony in a luxurious resort in northeastern Brazil.

"This is very sad for Brazilian football," FIFA said in a statement. "FIFA and the local organizing committee condemn any form of violence and such incidents should not happen in any football stadium."

But the scenes were not new to Brazilians. Authorities are unable to contain rival fan groups that go to stadiums mostly to fight. A recent study by Rio de Janeiro sociologist Mauricio Murad showed that at least 30 people have been killed in incidents across the country this year alone, more than in 2012.

Confrontations are likely in nearly every match, from the most high-profile ones to the least watched. Cruzeiro's title celebrations a few weeks ago had to be canceled because of fan fighting.

Few troublemakers are ever arrested, and those who are will rarely stay in prison. Punishment usually comes from Brazil's sports tribunal, which bans teams from playing at home after fan violence.

"Violence in football is treated differently than it is in society," said Leonardo Bertozzi, a commentator with ESPN Brasil. "You need to arrest those who take part in this type of violence and that doesn't happen."

Only three of the hundreds of fans seen fighting on Sunday were arrested.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called for an end to lack of punishment.

"The country of football cannot live with violence in stadiums anymore," Rousseff said on Twitter.

Many of the fights are pre-arranged by rival groups on the Internet and are not only related to teams' poor performances. Authorities know that many criminals are part of the fan groups but have been unable to ban them from stadiums.

Brazilian authorities argue that the 12 new World Cup stadiums will help drive out hooliganism and violence.

"We could discuss here for days the reasons why violence erupts in the stadiums," Rodrigues said. "But we believe that with the new events ... we will be able to overcome these issues and have safer stadiums to go to in Brazil. We hope that can change the old idea of a stadium as a place where violence can happen."

Security in Joinville was handled by private guards instead of police, similar to what is planned for the World Cup. Stewards are responsible for fan safety inside stadiums during FIFA events, with authorities usually in charge of security outside. Sunday's fighting only stopped after police fired rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.

"For the 2014 FIFA World Cup a very comprehensive security concept is in place in an integrated operation between private and public security authorities to ensure the safety for fans, players and any other stakeholder involved in the event," FIFA said in a statement. "The concept has worked very well during the FIFA Confederations Cup and is built on models used at previous FIFA World Cups."

While there were only about 80 security guards separating the crowd in Joinville, the local organizing committee said nearly 900 private security agents worked in every match during the Confederations Cup, a warm-up for the World Cup.

Most of FIFA's security concerns have been focused on protests outside of the venues. The fan groups common to club matches are not expected during World Cup games, in part because of the high prices of tickets.

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