No country for old fans?

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Last week, Atlético Paranaense broke a 59-year-old club record in the Paraná State championship by winning 12 matches in a row. Flamengo seized the Taça Guanabara in an electrifying final against Botafogo with a last minute net, in a sold out Maracanã, while Bahia, for the first time in 14 years, amassed back-to-back victories against their crosstown rivals Vitória, in the Campeonato Baiano. Just when the football season is warming up...

...Violence casts its shadow over it. The torcidas organizadas, gangs of the bloodthirsty ultras which have long been bringing mayhem to the stadiums, are literally stealing the show early this year.

On Sunday alone, three regrettable episodes happened in three different Brazilian States, with three different outcomes – in common, just the infamous organizadas and the fact that the news made the headlines of both the police and sports sections.

Actually, with so many mad incidents happening in the grounds, most national newspapers don’t even bother reporting regular ultras fights – for instance, to learn the full story about the combat involving Goiás and Vila Nova partisans at the stands of Serra Dourada, you’ve got to look for the Goiânia local media. Who cares if just five were arrested, three for drug traffic inside the stadium, and just one unlucky fan taken to the hospital?

Indeed, it’s peanuts next to the two major incidents that occurred in Rio de Janeiro and Santa Catarina. In the first, 24-year-old Diogo Emanuel Gonçalves, who was returning from Maracanã in a bus rented by Botafogo supporters, was murdered after the occupants of a passing car opened fire against the fans’ coach. Three suspects were arrested Tuesday night, one of them carrying a Smith & Wesson .44 – reportedly the murder weapon.

But it was in sunny Florianópolis, Santa Catarina, that the most mediatic event – for its pictorial appeal – took place. 62-year-old Criciúma fan Ivo Costa was watching his team beat Avaí on Heriberto Hulse stadium when a homemade bomb thrown by the rivals’ ultras landed just near him. When he grabbed the explosive to get rid of it, it blew up – and his right hand was severed.

The picture taken by ClicRBS’ photographer Flávio Neves of Ivo being assisted by the medical crew, which opens this post, hurts badly. Man, it was just an old-school fella, proudly donning his team shirt, radio on the left hand, looking for no more than a Sunday afternoon fun with his beloved team. Came Sunday night, his hand was gone – as well as his desire of returning to the ground, obviously. “Don’t plan to go back... I’m afraid”, the retired night watchman says, shirtless in the hospital room.

This time, it didn’t take long for the Avaí ultras fans to finger the responsibles for the tragedy. Perps with a rap sheet longer than a mile, cold blooded matadores like Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh, from the Oscar winning flick No Country for Old Men? Nope. A 22-year-old mechanic, who entered the stadium with the two bombs hidden in his underwear, and a 22-year-old Army soldier (an Army soldier, I repeat), who reportedly threw the fatidic device.

Now the Santa Catarina State Federation has banned away fans from the games – in Goiás, the authorities want to ban all the ultras. Will this be enough? Hardly. It’s a subject to endless nights of debates, but the bottom line is that mild laws, poor police control and slow Justice give the ultras an unmatched feeling of impunity in Brazil. Unless extreme measures are taken, they’re free to keep turning the grounds into combat zones – and to rob the regular fan of the undisputed right of watching football.