Fresh concerns over 2014 World Cup security were sparked when the second leg of the Copa Sudamericana final between São Paulo and Tigre came to a violent, premature end at the Brazilian city’s Morumbi stadium on Wednesday.
After players from the two sides clashed as they made their way toward the tunnel following a ferocious first half, reports of a brawl in the Tigre dressing room began filtering through to the media. Tigre manager Néstor Gorosito told Fox Deportes that stadium security had threatened his players with firearms—an allegation that was supported by left-back Lucas Orban, who stated that a security officer had put a gun to goalkeeper Damian Albil’s chest.
Tigre, saying the security of their players could not be guaranteed, refused to come out for the second period, and referee Enrique Osses awarded the match, and the trophy by default, to São Paulo.
Not surprisingly, the international press were quick to link the incident to the upcoming World Cup, which will be held in Brazil 18 months from now. The supposed possession of guns among stadium security—and their apparent willingness to un-holster those guns—unleashed a cavalcade of worry, and many of the familiar, redundant platitudes were subsequently provided for readers who had neither seen the match in question nor had any grasp of the context.
Would World Cup matches be subject to this sort of cowboy security? Could a similar incident take place between high-profile international teams, with the whole world watching? Was Brazil even capable of properly securing an event of this magnitude?
First, the context.
Club matches in many parts of South America are highly-charged affairs, and the host team is rarely all that hospitable to their guests. This is especially true when clubs from Brazil and Argentina collide. It’s also nothing new and hardly ever covered in the local media.
That said, on Thursday CONMEBOL spokesman Nestor Benitez told The Associated Press that the incident had been one of the continent’s worst in the last quarter-century.
When Tigre arrived in São Paulo their bus was pelted with rocks and beer bottles and their players were not allowed to warm up at the Morumbi prior to kickoff. The pent-up frustration at their treatment manifested itself in their play on pitch, which can only be described as vicious. Lucas Orban’s matchup with São Paulo winger Lucas Moura (who was playing his final match at the Morumbi before a move to Paris Saint-Germain) was especially fierce, and in the 38th minute the Tigre left-back elbowed his opponent in the face, bloodying his nose. It all kicked off from there.
This set of circumstances could not possibly be replicated at a World Cup, where FIFA runs the show, has the keys to the stadiums and operates a security cordon around each of the grounds. The figure of the gun-waving local security guard will simply not exist at the tournament, and the installed security apparatus will be so tight, so thorough that, if anything, the match-going experience will be somewhat diminished. In South Africa, for example, ticket-holders were asked to show up three to four hours ahead of kickoff so as to have time to make their way through the security perimeter.
Ah, South Africa. Remember the mess the 2010 World Cup was supposed to be? All the wallets and purses that were going to be pinched? The bodies of tourists that were supposed to litter the streets?
It didn’t happen; the World Cup crime wave simply didn’t transpire, and the whole thing pretty much went down without a hitch. That’s not to say pre-tournament fears were wholly unnecessary or misplaced, but it does show that they were properly managed.
As they have been since the 1974 World Cup in West Germany, which came on the heels of the terrorist attack during the Munich Olympics two years prior. Security concerns have been synonymous with World Cups ever since, and perhaps no more so than four years later in Argentina when it was hosted by a cruel and internationally-reviled military junta. Then, in 2002 (less than a year after the September 11 attacks), the idea of a no-fly zone was introduced ahead of the Japan/South Korea World Cup—the same World Cup that was condemned by Greenpeace for the irresponsible transport of nuclear material off the Japanese coast.
Now, just because the World Cup matchday experience turned out to be mostly safe in each of these instances by no means implies Brazil should be given a free pass for what happened on Wednesday. But the shrill, often lazy denunciations from certain elements of the press should be seen for what they are: the anxious panicking of fear-mongers.
At the end of the day, the Sudamericana incident at the Morumbi may even serve as a useful reminder that the 2014 security establishment cannot take anything for granted.
As World Cup Organising Committee chief Ricardo Trade told reporters on Thursday, “Those kinds of TV pictures are not good for us. We don’t want them. We also want to change another negative image—of the military police in the stadiums…It is not a positive image. We will not have this at the World Cup.”
You can take him at his word. Just as the mugging of British rugby fans and the burglary of the hotel rooms of several Egyptian and Brazilian players at the 2009 Confederations Cup served as a timely reminder that South Africa needed to increase its vigilance a year before the 2010 World Cup, so this incident will, in a roundabout way, helpfully reinforce Brazil’s commitment to stadium security as its own World Cup draws ever closer.