Barra brava mix with Maradona's men

All is not well in the world of Argentine NGOs.

Typically, when you say NGO, you’d think a group of centre-left-minded, do-gooding progressive thinkers joined together to do their bit for the world. Sure, they put on those heart-wrenching ads to get you to sponsor a child in India. Or they force you to slalom your way down the road as you try to avoid the army of bibbed fund-raisers trying to get your card details. But basically they do good work. 

So the theory goes.

One Argentine NGO, which was actually set up by a government aide but we’ll let that one slide, promised to travel to the world’s biggest party and help the people of South Africa. Back home they were ‘social leaders’ and at the World Cup they would help build schools and show their solidarity with those living in squalor.

But come match day, especially Argentina’s matchday, this group of 20- to 40-year-old men would be at the stadium. Argentine United Fans (HUA) was set up as an NGO to hide its real aim – to finance the tickets and travel of hundreds of the infamous barra bravas, the scourge of Argentine football.

Despite nearly a year of complaints, outrage and busy bodies pointing out that several have criminal records so shouldn’t be allowed to travel, and the whole project was just wrong, they still organised, and they still sent over 200 barras to South Africa.

No sooner did they arrive than six of the HUA leaders were deported because of their criminal past. This left a large group of barras with violent tendencies without a leader to keep them in line.

Back home, The Deported made their way through Ezeiza airport, threatening journalists and wearing masks to avoid being seen – kind of ironic given that every Argentine police station displays their mug shot.

While the deported bosses now promise to work out a way to return to South Africa, a power struggle is set to begin amongst those who stayed. Oh, and their tickets haven’t come through either – so it won’t just be the chill you’ll be worried about at Argentina’s fan zones.

Another group, similar in their DNA, are keen to stress their non-government status. “The government didn’t pay for us to come, neither did AFA,” said Ramon Ortiz, on behalf of the 43 known barras who took the same flight as the national team to South Africa. “We deal with Maradona and Bilardo. We are the official national team fans.”

"Official national team fans" in this case translates as the official barra. Bilardo was quick to say that he didn’t know where all this came from, but then the barras visited the team’s training camp the day after arriving. They claimed they had lost their luggage, and – having flown on the same flight as the national team to South Africa – thought (of course!) that their bags had been mixed up with the players' kit.

While this latest chapter in the barra brava story plays out, a real NGO, Salvemos al Futbol (Let's Save Football), together with a group of families of the victims of violence in football, are starting civil action back in Argentina. They want answers. They want those responsible for this to face the courts. They, like the rest of us, want to know just what the barra brava are doing in South Africa.

Maybe those fund raisers aren’t so bad after all.

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