Copa America Beefs Up Security in Brazil To Prevent Soccer Gang Violence

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With the Copa America soccer tournament nearing kickoff, authorities in Brazil have employed a number of tactics to ensure infamous fan-run gangs don’t spoil it. The measures may provide fans protection in the short term but won’t challenge these groups’ criminal power and influence.

South America’s biggest international soccer tournament begins in July, and authorities in Argentina have already sent to its Brazilian counterparts a list of 3,000 individuals believed to be part of these violent gangs. All of them will be barred from the stadiums, reported IG.

In order to guarantee security during the much anticipated Copa America, which will be played between June 14 and July 7, facial recognition technology has also been installed in stadiums.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Soccer Crime

“Barras bravas” are fan-run gangs that have turned into complex criminal enterprises in Argentina and to a lesser extent in other countries in the Americas, including in Brazil and in Uruguay.

In Argentina, they are known to be particularly violent and have strong links with powerful soccer club owners, politicians, businessmen and even trade unionists.

They control illegal economies associated with soccer matches, such as ticket reselling and car parking near stadiums. In some cases, they have been involved in drug trafficking and extortion.

In Brazil, fan organizations are known to have been infiltrated by powerful criminal organizations that, at times, use these groups to sell drugs and arms.

InSight Crime Analysis

Although Brazil’s attempts to restrict the entry of potentially troublesome soccer fans might help prevent violence in the short term, it will have next to no effect on these organizations’ power, influence and reach.

Measures aimed at limiting these organizations’ power, such as banning visiting supporters’ access to high-profile matches, have been in place in Argentina since 2013. But a violent clash between fans and the discovery of a drug haul in the home of a top gang leader led to the cancellation of the final of 2018 Copa Libertadores in Buenos Aires. This was not only shameful for Argentine authorities but painful proof that these gangs are entrenched.

Argentina’s congress is currently debating a bill backed by Security Minister Patricia Bullrich to increase punishments for those accused of committing or instigating violence during sporting events but a law is far from being passed.

“These measures are neither sufficient nor effective,” sociologist José Garriga told InSight Crime. “In the past 30 years, there have been no effective public policies to prevent soccer violence or tackle the barras bravas.”

Important steps have been taken to prosecute the leaders of some of these groups, he said. But the groups have eager youths waiting in the wings.

“The authorities have not managed to take back the space they have, the illegal activities they control, which is the root of the problem,” Garriga said.

In Argentina, the power of these groups derives in part from the sway they control over voting members in club elections.

SEE ALSO: Why Can’t Argentina Control Its ‘Barras Bravas’?

Authorities in Brazil have also taken steps to tackle the influence of criminal organizations in fan groups, and have banned violent fans from matches.

But prosecution of such fans has proven difficult. In 2014 and 2015, only 3 percent of perpetrators were effectively punished.

Sociologist Mauricio Murad told AFP that policing of these groups is ineffective and that the biggest challenge in Brazil is that criminal organizations infiltrate soccer fan groups because they see them as a vehicle to sell drugs and guns.

“There’s no prevention plan. There’s no police training to learn how to deal with large crowds, or any policy to involve clubs and to focus on punishing the mafias that infiltrate the mostly peaceful fan groups,” Murad said.

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