A football cup of political significance and maximum security
Copa América2019 will be played in Brazil from June 14 to July 7. Photo: Brazil vs Paraguay at Copa América 2015/Ver en Vivo En Directo/Flickr
14.06.2019By Javier Szlifman
Football stars such as Argentina's Lionel Messi, Uruguay's Luis Suarez, Chile's Arturo Vidal and Colombia's James Rodriguez are all looking for glory in Brazil, in the up-coming edition of the Copa América that begins with the opening match between Brazil and Bolivia at the Morumbi stadium in São Paulo on Friday.
Topics such as country policy, security and violence prevention are present in this tournament. Because in addition to the action on the pitch, the cup has also become a state affair for the government, which seeks to show a friendly face of Brazil during the cup.
Copa América is one of the oldest national team tournaments in the world, but also a tournament mirroring the challenges with violence that for many years have haunted South American football, including the Copa América. There are records of fans killed by acts of violence in 1924, 1955 and 1995.
Now, Brazil will once again host a sports mega event, after organising the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. In a place like South America, which lives football with great passion, thousands of fans will come to the land of the carnival to watch the games. Most will probably arrive from Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia and Paraguay. Some 100,000 foreign supporters are expected in São Paulo alone, one of the five cities of the tournament (see the text box).
The infamous Argentine fans, the ´Barrabravas´, will also be in Brazil. Fans of important teams in Argentina, such as Independiente, Racing, San Lorenzo, Boca and Velez, have links with groups of fans of Brazilian teams, such as Inter de Porto Alegre, Gremio, Cruzeiro, Fluminense and Corinthians. These friendly relations would facilitate the journey of Argentine fans. The risks of confrontations grow.
At the 2014 World Cup, 118 fans of Argentina were deported for causing incidents. During the 2018 World Cup in Russia, 49 Argentines were expelled. In the last four world championships, Argentina was the country with the most fans deported.
A broad range of security measures
Violence does not seem to be an unfamiliar element of South American football. The authorities know this and seek to avoid incidents in the next Copa América.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has made security one of the cornerstones of his presidential campaign, and he hopes that everything is under control at the tournament. At his first meeting with Argentine President Mauricio Macri, in January of this year, the control of Argentine fans was one of the topics discussed. In addition, the Argentine Security Minister, Patricia Bullrich, met with her Brazilian colleague, Sergio Moro, and both officials agreed to work together to prevent acts of violence.
At a new meeting in May, the Argentine government delivered a list of 5,000 fans with a history of violence in football, which the Brazilian administration will use to prevent them from entering the country. In addition, the Argentine government will send a delegation of police and officials to cooperate with the Brazilian police. Alejandro Dominguez, president of the South American Football Confederation, CONMEBOL, took part in the security announcements for the first time. Thanks to the contribution provided by other countries in the region, a total of 8,000 fans are banned from enter Brazil.
During the Copa América, each game will be guarded by 800 men from different Brazilian security forces placed around the stadium. Inside the stadiums, 10,000 agents hired by the South American Confederation from private companies will be responsible for the security during matches. On top of this, local authorities will implement a facial recognition system for the first time.
The security forces will especially guard the team from Qatar, invited to the Cup. This country is experiencing a diplomatic crisis with some of its neighbours such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Libya and Yemen, who broke diplomatic relations with the emirate.
Football as a political tool and battlefield
But to Bolsonar, the question of security is not the only thing about football that concerns him.
Despite some resistances, the president likes to move in the field of football. A few days ago, he visited Neymar in the hospital, where the player was hospitalised after an injury suffered in in a friendly match. The president did not seem to mind the recent rape allegations facing the Paris Saint-Germain star.
When Bolsonaro himself was hospitalized last September, being stabbed while campaigning for the presidency of Brazil, Felipe Melo, captain of Palmeiras, dedicated a goal to him. Other players who greeted him were Roger and Jadson of Corinthians and Lucas Moura, striker of Tottenham. Moura even got into a discussion with compatriots on social media where he defended Bolsonaro from criticism.
But the football has also become a political battlefield. The toughest opposition against the president came from different groups of fans, who during the presidential campaign openly demonstrated against the former soldier.
Gavioes da Fiel, the largest group of Corinthians fans, issued a statement recalling that since its birth in 1969, the fan club has always supported democracy, so it would be ‘incoherent’ to support Bolsonaro, who has vindicated the former military governments in Brazil. In total, 69 groups of fans from different teams put aside their rivalry and participated in a public event in October of last year in a theater in São Paulo to publicly support Fernando Hadad, the presidential candidate from the Workers' Party, the rival of Bolsonaro. In reply, one of Bolsonaro's main advisers threatened to ban organized fan groups.
After being elected, the president celebrated the championship of Palmeiras with the players. There, in front of Felipe Melo, he made a military gesture.
In the shadow of corruption scandals
"To the South Americans and the whole world, just one message: Come to Brazil, fill the stadiums, enjoy this great party, prepared for you with a lot of dedication. Let's make the continent vibrate!" said CONMEBOL President Alejandro Domínguez during the draw of the Cup, in January of this year.
Shortly before the start of the tournament, CONMEBOL received recognition from the Anti-Corruption Secretariat of Paraguay for its "good practices" in the field of governance and transparency.
The recognition comes shortly after the so-called FIFA Gate, the corruption scandal that erupted in 2015 involving several South American top officials. The New York prosecutor's office, which investigated the case, discovered the payment of bribes of allegedly well over 100 million dollars for the sale of commercial rights for three editions of the Copa América, including the tournament that now takes place in Brazil.
Because of this, the last three presidents of the Confederation (Nicolás Leoz, Eugenio Figueredo and Juan Angel Napout), along with a dozen leaders, former presidents of the federations and senior executives, are being tried by the US justice system, accused of criminal association, money laundering, fraud and bribes among other crimes.
A few days ago in Paris, the South American leaders voted a new statute for the Confederation, which includes the promotion of grassroots football, the promotion of indoor football and women's football, but also less strict ‘integrity’ criterions for managers who have managerial positions in the confederation. Then, they gave their unanimous support to Gianni Infantino for a new mandate at the head of FIFA.
Far from the scandals and the courts, it is now time for the ball game, the goals and the passion of the fans.