After a Sunday match between Atletico Paranaense and Vasco da Gama was halted for more than an hour as fans from the two Brasileirao sides fought a pitched battle in the stands, both the national government and world football’s governing body weighed in on the violence—one in condemnation and the other in reassurance.
“This violence goes against everything we believe football to be—a sport of passion, but also of tolerance,” remarked Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff via her official Twitter account.
She added: “Police presence in stadiums is required.”
FIFA, meanwhile, sought to reassure its international following—including those who might be making World Cup travel plans—that its June and July event would not see a repeat of the brutality as a security apparatus was already “in place” for the tournament.
“The concept has worked very well during the FIFA Confederations Cup and is built on models used at previous FIFA World Cups,” the organization told Reuters in a statement (via The Guardian), citing an “integrated operation” between the private and public security establishments.
Given previous incidents involving fans of Atletico Paranaense, Sunday’s Brasileirao match between the Curitiba-based side and Vasco da Gama was played in Joinville, Santa Catarina, at a ground that typically hosts second-division matches.
Only 15 minutes had elapsed when the referee was forced to halt proceedings—the non-segregated supporters of both clubs having charged one another in the stands. Some of the fans had brought home-made weapons into the stadium, and images seemed to show unconscious men being repeatedly kicked in the head.
Despite entreaties from the players the violence continued, and it took a volley of rubber bullets from a police crew that was late in arriving to finally put an end to the brawl. One man was taken to the hospital by a helicopter that landed on the pitch.
“This is deplorable,” Vasco da Gama manager Adilson Batista told reporters (via Yahoo!). “It’s sad to see images like these just before the World Cup in our country. I’m shocked. This is not sport.”
Added Atletico Paranaense defender Luiz Alberto: “I’ve been playing for 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like this in person.” (BBC)
According to a report in The Guardian, at least 30 people have been killed in football-related incidents in Brazilian stadiums in 2013.
What Might Happen
FIFA’s confidence that Sunday’s scenes in Joinville will not make a reappearance during the World Cup is well founded.
World football’s governing body runs it tournaments like virtual prison camps, with fans having to navigate heavily fortified security perimeters before even venturing within sight of the stadiums.
Troublemakers have about as much chance of disturbing World Cup matches as breaking into Buckingham Palace and tipping over the Queen’s teacup.
But what happens on the street is another matter entirely, and something FIFA has little to no control over.
The Confederations Cup revealed just how displeased many Brazilians had become with their government’s spending priorities—with how many billions of Reais were being spent on stadiums and World Cup-related projects instead of social infrastructure such as health care and education.
Large-scale demonstrations took place in at least 80 cities during the competition, and while few of the protesters focused their ire on either the Confederations Cup or the World Cup, in particular, FIFA found itself caught in the cross-hairs.
As a result, the organization pressured the Brazilian authorities to clamp down on the demonstrations in order to save face—something it may do again should similar popular actions take place in June and July.
They probably will.
More than 40 million Brazilians have made their way from extreme poverty to a new, burgeoning middle class since 2003 (according to the United Nations), and rather than football stadiums, most of them want first-world services to accompany their arrival in it.
This will be the social dynamic that defines the 2014 World Cup, and just how FIFA reacts to it will go a long way in determining whether they have a self-made crisis on their hands in six months’ time.
FIFA are terrified of violence, and rightfully so. And while they may have done everything in their power to prevent a Joinville-like incident at the World Cup, they still have some lessons to learn about the place where football and society intersect.