I usually try to begin with a witty title to grab a few reader’s attention, but I don’t think that’s appropriate in light of the subject I’m writing about today.
Flares are often used by supporters to celebrate after goals and intimidate opponents, on some occasions they have been used as weapons by one group of fans against the other. Two stories of flares cropped up in the last day: one tragic, the other, well, just intimidating.
The tragedy: Kevin Beltran Espada was a San Jose (Bolivia) fan attending the Copa Libertadores (South American Champions League) match against Corinthians (Brazil). He was a 14 year-old killed instantly when struck with a flare thrown from the Corinthians section. The flare was launched following a Corinthians goal and hit Beltran in the head. 12 Corinthians supporters were arrested for the incident and are being held in Bolivia pending the investigation. Many of the San Jose fans left in tears on hearing of the incident, and Coach Tite of Corinthians held a brief press conference where he expressed regret on behalf of all the Corinthians players and then left stating that, “I didn’t want to be here (at the conference), what happened is too heavy to be able to talk of football, I’m sorry.”
Conmebol (the South American Football Federation) has started its own investigation into the incident and has declared that Corinthians must play the next 60 days (of Copa Libertadores) matches behind closed doors.
Despite the tragedy I don’t hold out much hope that flares will be dropped from fan repertoires. Half a world away, in the Europa League competition (UEFA’s second level tournament behind Champions League), Fenerbahce (Turkey) played behind closed doors in their round of 32 match against BATE Borisov (Belarus) due to the throwing of fireworks on the pitch during their previous European match against Borussia Monchengladbach.
Fenerbahce set up a big-screen TV outside the stadium for the fans that decided to come anyway and watch together from the parking lot. They will likely need to do so for their next match as well following the fans celebration of their lone goal in the match (allowing them to advance 1-0 on aggregate). In addition to the flares lit in the parking lot, a number of flares were launched by fans into the stadium and onto the pitch. It made for an eerie sight and underlined the banner held by the fans outside declaring “As if we were here”.
I appreciate the importance of sound and visuals made by the fans – heck that’s what I’m researching, but the degree to which flares take the intimidation is beyond most people’s sensibility for games. The risks are too great. Beyond just the danger inherent in using explosive devices in large crowds (which just seems like common sense), they have far too often become weapons in the hands of more aggressive supporters and hooligans. Inter Milan fans were banned for a series of matches several years ago for hitting the AC Milan keeper Dida with a flare in one of their derbies. And earlier this year Zenit St. Petersburg fans burned a section of their seating at a Anzhi Makhachkala for a little fun. Considering the long history of stadium disasters and the long tradition of using pyrotechnics, its surprising this hasn’t happened more often – or maybe it does and I’m only just paying attention now.