There are three games left in the season to play. Lanús is fighting it out with Newell's Old Boys and River Plate and have a key match against Estudiantes de La Plata. It’s a Monday but 42-year-old Javier Daniel Gerez, a fan well-known to fellow supporters as ‘el Zurdo,’ travels to La Plata to watch his dear Granate nevertheless. As kick-off draws closer, the entrance to the Estadio Único de La Plata gets heated: there is anxiety, arguing, pushing and shoving. The local police do what they usually do in these cases: they repress. The situation gets out of control, with hundreds of fans soon seeking refuge wherever they can, as a rain of rubber bullets beats down. In the midst of the chaos, a member of the Buenos Aires Province police forces fires, shooting Gerez in the chest from half a metre away. The Lanús fan collapses to the asphalt. With his hand still holding his match ticket, he reaches to cover the hole the bullet has made in his chest. By the time he arrives at a local hospital, he is already dead.
The killing of Gerez changed the fate of local football. Since June 10, 2013, away supporters have been banned from attending stadiums in Argentina. Along with the authorities of the Argentine Football Association (AFA), Sergio Berni, then-national security secretary, declared matches would be played with only home fans present. Security reasons, they argued, made such a move necessary. It would avoid clashes between fans and problems with the attendance of barra bravas, the violent hooligan gangs that were the source of much of the trouble.
The plan seemed feasible, but it has failed. Over the last 10 years, the number of deaths at football stadiums has actually increased compared to previous decades. According to the records of the Salvemos al Fútbol (“Let's Save Football”) NGO, 72 people have died since restrictions on away fans were introduced – 12 more than in the preceding decade of 2003-2013 and 16 more than between 1993-2003. It is clear that violence and deaths in stadiums are progressively increasing, and it is also clear that what was proposed as a solution has not worked.
Benefits for the few
Sociologist Diego Murzi, the vice-president of Salvemos al Fútbol, is clear in his analysis "The ban on away fans did not solve the problem of violence, but it did solve a large part of the problems faced by those involved in the management of security in football, the police, officials and directors.”
Why? “Because by eliminating the fans, the barras and the most active supporters [for] one out of every two matches, it simplified the day-to-day work of all these actors. And even more so in the case of the police, who did not reduce the number of police officers [deployed] for operations, which means that there are more police officers to look after fewer people who, a priori, are less conflictive. This also explains why away fans never return, or when they do return, they will do so in very small numbers,” explained Murzi.
The sociologist argues that episodes of violence, far from being less regular, have in fact been channelled to other places.
"Clashes between fans of different teams have decreased, clearly because they no longer cross paths in the stadiums. But aggressions against football players and the few officials who accompany visiting teams have increased exponentially. This explains that, in reality, the violence has been redirected towards the only figures in the stadiums who are identified with the other club,” he adds.
There were three Buenos Aires Province police officers involved in the death of Gerez: Roberto Lezcano, Víctor Bacuco and Jorge López. The officers were held in custody for just a few hours. All three were eventually cleared. The case was closed and no-one has been convicted of a crime. The bullet of the Buenos Aires Province police force was fired by nobody.
For lawyer Sergio Smietniansky, a member of the Coordinadora de Derechos Humanos del Fútbol group, the lack of justice for the killing is a determining factor when assessing the last decade.
"Before talking about 10 years without visiting away fans, I highlight 10 years without justice. Gerez was murdered by the Buenos Aires [Province] police and after all this time there has been no trial and not a single police officer has been charged. The first thing to highlight is the issue of repression and impunity. It is not 10 years since away supporters were banned, it is 10 years of impunity,” he said in an interview.
For Smietniansky, the focus should be on the minority of hooligans that are the source of much of the violence.
"Many of the acts of violence in stadiums take place between the different factions of the barras. Here another component appears, which is the political factor, because the barras no longer fight over issues related to football, as might have happened decades ago, the barras are political labour and represent very strong economic interests, which makes them a symbol of the social and political violence that occurs in the context of football,” he said.
“This is totally different from saying that it is football violence,” Smietniansky concluded.