June 2016

Barras Bravas a mounting problem?

Growing up in United Kingdom, I have always seen football hooliganism as a major problem. Hooliganism has long infested games right across Europe for decades and has to an extent damaged footballs reputation. On first inspection, the Barras Bravas are a near carbon copy of the hooligans we have in the UK. However, the situation in South America is far more dangerous.

By: Daniel Junor
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Wales Powys - United Kingdom

Photo by: Freddy Mita

The Barras Bravas is originated from Argentina in the 1950s. Their origins saw them start out as mere fan groups for football clubs, but they have developed into large scale corrupt organizations. The Barras Bravas have a large presence in everyday life in Argentina. However, the reason why they become so famous is their violence during match day. Fan related violence is prevalent in soccer across all of South America; however, it is worst in Argentina. Many youths join Barras Bravas as a way out of poverty and slums of their cities. They believe that joining the Barras Bravas would give them a sense of honor. It is understandable that so many young men would want to join a Barra Brava. They are given free tickets with the extreme poverty. In parts of South America, football is some youths' only outlet. To join the Barras Bravas, you need to participate in fan violence. The situation gets worse as large amounts of alcohol and drugs are consumed before match day. According to Jose Garriga, the violence serves to create a sense of honor. Among these poor young men, the fighting is seen as very prestigious and often gives them a sense of purpose. Another big advantage of joining the Barras Bravas is that it is far easier to get a bed at a local hospital and you get easier job applications at local government offices.

Coaches of Barras Bravas
Photo by: Freddy Mita

"Even the president has praised them, without using their name."

All about the money

Since their inception, Barras Bravas have seen their revenue stream increase rapidly. At the beginning, Barras Bravas were supported by the clubs with free tickets and travel to games. However, as soccer continued to become more profitable in South America, so did the Barras Bravas. The Barras Bravas gained more revenue when they started to control the ticket sales around stadiums and the cost of parking, bringing in substantial profits. However, it is within the stadium where the Barras Bravas make most of their money by controlling the sale of merchandise, refreshments and even illegal narcotics. You have to start to question how much Barras Bravas have to do with soccer. What they all seem to care about is money. This view I shared with a former member. One former member said: "They start out like an organization to gather and consolidate support, but they get distorted to become a band of criminals that has nothing to do with the club and takes the club's name in vain."

The coaches of Barras Bravas

Not only have the Barras Bravas grown to a significant financial backing from their activities, they have started to exert power over the clubs they original started out as simple fans of. Barras Bravas have a big say in the management of the club, from the hiring of the coaches to the transfer of players. While not all club officials are member of Barras Bravas, many are powerless to stop them due to the threat of physical violence if they fail to cooperate. This intervention can reap big rewards for the Barras in Argentina Boca. They have to pay $5,400 to the Barras Bravas each month; in other situations more influential Barras Bravas take 30% of transfer fees and 20% of players' paychecks away from their respective clubs.

The influence of Barras Bravas

You have to begin to wonder how organizations like the Barras Bravas are able to operate without pressure from politicians, law enforcement, and the media. The answer is corruption. Politicians and the media are well aware of how much influence the Barras Bravas have and have used them for their benefit, meaning they have done little to combat the issue. Examples of this include banners with messages such as "Clarin Miente." This is in reference to an opposition newspaper; and "Nestor vive," not long after the passing of the Argentine president. The extent of their influence was summed up by Journalist Nicolas Balinotti: "Even the president has praised them, without using their name." Despite their many crimes, members of the Barras Bravas are unlikely to face justice as many members of the law enforcement in Argentina are in their pocket and are aided by inefficient judicial system in Argentina.

Photo by: Freddy Mita

Barras Bravas problems in Bolivia

While the problems with Barras Bravas are clearly at its worst in Argentina, people have said that the issue in Bolivia is escalating. While the violence among Barras Bravas in Bolivia is not nearly as bad as in Argentina, there has only been one death from 1990–2010. Nevertheless, there is evidence that Bolivian Barras Bravas have some kind of political backing, especially in Santa Cruz where the Barra Brava known as La Vieja Escuela demands "autonomia". While there have not been many fan deaths, violence has increased in Bolivia. Recently, new measures have had to be introduced, such as forced separation of the fans. Clearly Bolivia's Barras Bravas are in their early stages, although arguments could be made that they are growing, as two Bolivians have died as a result of fan violence. The first one died in February 2012 as a member of the band of Blooming 46, Jose Maria Montaño, was viciously beaten by a rival Barra called the Stooges. More tragic, however, was the death of young fan Kevin Beltran Espana, who was hit by a flair thrown by a Brazilian fan and died immediately during a Copa Libertadores match. Although the problem may seem small now, Bolivia needs only to look over the border to see just what can happen when Barras Bravas get out of control. Therefore, I would say more efforts need to be made to stop the rise of Barras Bravas before it is too late. Not long after the death of Kevin Beltran, the Bolivian football league and government worked together to issue Supreme Decree 1515, which prevented fans from carrying firecrackers, knives, and firearms into the stadium; and prohibited the consumption of narcotics. While this is an important step, more work is needed to stop the Barras Bravas. After Kevin Beltran's death, the Bolivian national police arrested 12 Brazilian fans for his death. They were all inexplicably released sometime later without charges, a clear warning to Bolivia of the power of the Barras Bravas.

Football violence in other countries

While football violence is most noted as a South American and European problem, Asia and Africa have to deal with similar problems. Russia faces issues with soccer as the 2018 World Cup approaches, where violence and far right extremism are also commonplace. Small clashes are familiar sights at Russian football matches, with the most brutal football related violence happening in 2010 after protests of the murder of a Spartak Moscow fan. This riot was also race related as the fan had been killed by gangs from the Muslim dominated Caucasus region; the protestors took revenge by attacking immigrants. This kind of far right extremism is all too common in Russia; one can often see in the stands Nazi flags and Chechen flags being burned. Violence in African football comes more often than not from unplanned violence in response to perceived referee injustices and poor results instead of being instigated by groups looking to cause trouble. So often does violence outbreak that many African Cup games are played behind closed doors for safety reasons. There are exceptions to this rule, most tragically in Egypt 2012, where 74 people died during the Port Said disaster. The massacre happened because fans of El Ahly had been involved in the Tahir Square riots. In the previous year the police, seeking retribution, allowed the El Marsy fans to smuggle weapons in and did nothing to halt the ensuing violence.

Alerta Verde teaches children how to create a wonderful garden
The Alerta Verde Foundation is an organization focusing on environmental education. After six years of working on the same topics under a different name, it was legally established in 2012. They teach children how to cultivate vegetables and fruit so they learn how to eat healthy. Alerta Verde does this at many elementary schools in Cochabamba, usually five in a year. Arnold Brouwer is the founder of this great project
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