Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Risks of Soccer in La Boca

More than once, in presenting Buenos Aires to audiences in my digital slide talks, I’ve been asked about the issue of safety. Personally, I feel that Buenos Aires is safer than many if not most places in the United States, and my facetious reply is that “There are no drive-by shootings in Buenos Aires.” Firearms, while not absent, are much harder to come by in Argentina than they are in the US.
That doesn’t mean that random violence does not exist, a fact that became obvious early this week when two fans died in a shootout of opposing factions of hooligan gangs of the Boca Juniors soccer team. In fact, this happened not in La Boca itself, but at the Bajo Flores stadium of San Lorenzo, in what was supposed to be a “friendly” match (ironically enough, that’s a term used in both Spanish and English to describe an exhibition that has no effect on league standings, though fans and players obviously take it seriously). The game was suspended, and will probably be replayed next week – with no fans present.
I’m not a soccer fan and, as I’ve indicated before, I’m not particularly interested in viewing a sport where hooligan gangs are a public health hazard. Boca’s hooligan gang is known as “La Doce” (the twelfth man, so-called because of the presumed advantage their fanaticism provides to the 11 players on the field). I have, however, visited the Boca Juniors museum in the bowels of the Bombonera (pictured above), the stadium where the team plays its home games, and found it a valuable experience for understanding the role of soccer in Argentina as a whole and the barrio of La Boca in particular.
That said, the museum has one major shortcoming. While it provides exhaustive coverage of the franchise’s illustrious on-field history and the players who have worn its blue and gold colors (as indicated in the photo above), and does a pretty good job of stresses its ties to the barrio, it omits any mention whatsoever of the notorious barras bravas (which are in reality soccer mafias) that make attending a match potentially risky. When I asked museum staff about the topic, their response was evasive – suggesting that they themselves are fearful of what La Doce might do if there were any criticism of the hooligans.

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