Anti-World Cup protests are not the only problem Brazilian security authorities will face during the soccer tournament. They are also bracing for an invasion of Argentine hooligans.
The soccer fan clubs called “barras bravas” in neighboring Argentina are notoriously violent and Brazilian police are taking no chances.
Brazil plans to beef up security in and outside stadiums where arch rival Argentina will play, deploy undercover cops and bring in Argentine police officers to spot troublemakers, police officials in some host cities said.
“I don’t care what they call these people. Brazilian police, in cooperation with foreign police, will be tough in responding to anyone who comes here to commit crimes,” said Andrei Rodrigues, Brazil’s security chief for the World Cup.
More than 50 000 Argentine fans are expected to come to Brazil for the World Cup, many driving across the border in cars and buses.
Brazil’s government already faces the threat of street protests by Brazilians opposed to the high cost of hosting the tournament. Massive demonstrations broke out last year during a warm-up for the World Cup and have continued on a smaller scale, sometimes with violence.
Although deadly incidents are rare at World Cups, Argentine barras bravas have a history of violence, from stabbing English fans in Mexico in 1986 to fighting each other during the last tournament in South Africa four years ago.
Like fans from all over, many Argentines were unable to secure tickets to World Cup games and will be milling around outside the stadiums. That could spell trouble if the barras bravas run into local fan groups, or “torcidas,” which are blamed for growing violence plaguing Brazilian soccer.
A record 30 people died in soccer-related violence last year in Brazil, the highest in the world after Argentina and Italy, according to data compiled by Brazilian researcher Mauricio Murad.
England vs Argentina
“There will be a lot of torcida youths angry that expensive tickets left them outside the stadiums. If they encounter Argentine barras bravas you could easily have clashes,” said Rafael Alcadipani, a professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation who has studied the protests around the World Cup.
“It is a very dangerous mix. The risk of violence is imminent at this World Cup.”
Like Argentina’s barras bravas, some of Brazil’s torcidas are believed to be linked to organised crime that uses them to distribute drugs and arms in slums of large cities such as Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires.
Brazilian police are also worried that Argentine barras bravas could clash with English fans in the city of Belo Horizonte where the teams will play only three days apart.
These teams have long had one of the sport’s fiercest rivalries, fueled by the Falklands war of 1982 and Diego Maradona’s notorious “Hand of God” goal that helped oust England from the 1986 Cup.
This time, England and Argentina will only face each other if they reach the final.
“We are aware of the history between the two countries and cannot ignore the risk of clashes between English and Argentine fans,” said Alberto Luiz Alves, spokesman for Minas Gerais state police, which expects 1 500 barras bravas to reach the city.
This time around, English hooligans pose less of a threat due to the distance and cost of flying to Brazil, plus tough British laws that allow authorities to stop known troublemakers from leaving the country.
Brazil hopes to stop barras bravas at the border using a list with more than 2 000 names of violent hooligans provided by the Argentine government. That will be the first line of defense against violent fans, Rodrigues told Reuters at the brand new national control centre with wall-to-wall screens linked to cameras in all 12 host cities.
Brazil also plans to deploy 157 000 police and troops to secure borders and maintain order around stadiums.