Much of the world may have already forgotten about the violent actions exhibited by Brazilian soccer fans on February 1st against Brazilian Football League team Corinthians, but soccer players are not so quick to forget. The incident occurred when reportedly one-hundred fans broke through wire fencing at the Corinthians’ training facility. One player of the club was grabbed by the neck by angry fans while most players and staff fled safely to the locker room before police entered the scene. As a result, in a show of solidarity, Corinthian players as well as players from nineteen other Brazilian clubs threatened to strike until the league took action to ensure player safety. Corinthians players released this statement explaining their feelings:
We are fed up with these unpunished acts of violence in football. The grotesque scenes of violence this weekend indicate that an unprecedented tragedy is about to occur at the work place of professional clubs across Brazil. We will not accept that. We need to put a stop to this by creating a task force that can offer proper security to professional players and the righteous fans.
Despite this call for action, no strike occurred due to the fear that players on smaller clubs in the league would lose their jobs.
Fan violence in Brazil has become more prevalent, especially in the build up to this summer’s World Cup which will be hosted in Brazil. What is most surprising is the lack of public response from the Brazilian Football League or FIFA itself. In fact, the only public comment that appears to have emanated following this incident was assurance from Brazil Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo that the attack was targeted against a club and was unrelated to the World Cup. Besides being understated, this response from Rebelo left a lot to be desired and many questions unanswered.
Sweeping these unfortunate incidents under the rug seems to be the rule rather than the exception. It appears that FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, has no intention to step in to put a stop to these transgressions and protect fans and players from future violence. FIFA’s hands-off approach to events such as these might not come as a surprise, as it should be the responsibility of the Brazilian Football League to take action. However, FIFA’s decision for a World Cup Qualifying game between Poland and Ukraine to be played behind closed doors to punish Ukraine’s supporters for racist and discriminatory incidents in a prior World Cup Qualifier proved that they do have both the ability and the responsibility to take action in such instances. FIFA also acted swiftly to fan violence in Egypt’s infamous Port Said massacre, an incident which resulted in seventy-nine deaths during a match between Al-Masry and Al Ahly. FIFA President Sepp Blatter demanded reports from the Egyptian Football Association to determine the motivation behind the travesty.
The image of both FIFA and the Brazilian Football League seem to remain untarnished in the public eye, despite FIFA’s lack of response to the fan violence in Brazil. Consider the magnitude of the situation at hand: fans violently react against professional athletes, almost forcing a stoppage in league play and neither of the governing bodies responded. If these events happened in Europe or Africa, FIFA and other governing bodies would be quick to remedy the situation and make their actions public and improve their image. FIFA might need to reconsider its inaction in this instance. If an incident is wrong, it is wrong no matter where it occurs, and it deserves a formal response.
Perhaps one explanation for FIFA’s failure thus far to address these situations is that the international governing body is fearful that any actions taken would simply result in backlash from soccer fans and Brazilian residents, many of whom have not been shy about the shortcomings (and civilian casualties) of the Brazilian government’s preparations to host the upcoming FIFA World Cup. FIFA it seems, as well as the Brazilian government, would prefer to not risk eliciting more fan violence in the host nation resulting in more negative press leading up to FIFA’s crowning event.
With Brazil’s proud history as a top soccer nation, it is all too tragic to see these events occur over and over again while authorities with the power to make a difference remain bystanders. Soccer fans from around the world can only hope that these acts of violence surrounding the sport become distant memories. A response from FIFA would do well toward giving that assurance the urgency it deserves.