SANTIAGO, March 6 (Reuters) - In a bid to keep South America’s notorious ‘barra brava’ hooligans away from soccer stadiums, Chile is implementing strict rules that fans complain will take the fizz out of proceedings at the Copa America in June.
This year’s tournament, to be hosted by Chile, is the region’s biggest national soccer championship and fans are looking forward to seeing players like Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Brazil’s Neymar battling it out on the pitch.
Games featuring South American teams are renowned for their colour and noise, creating an atmosphere that can make European matches seem dour by comparison.
But some elements of that atmosphere can undermine security and controls are being tightened, Jose Roa, the head of the Chilean government’s ‘Safe Stadium Plan’, told Reuters.
“Our aim is to create a framework so the football community can enjoy a safe party, and exclude from the stadiums those who have set themselves apart from the football community,” he said.
Drums, whose throbbing beat is so often the backdrop to Latin American matches, could block exits and will not be allowed in to Copa games.
Nor will fireworks, flares or banners. The latter can impede views or be used to smuggle in weapons or other banned items, Roa said.
The security crackdown has upset fans, who say it is disproportionate. One local Facebook group with 17,000 likes said: “Drums and banners do not generate violence...we are fans, not criminals!”
Last month, the ‘barra brava’ of Chilean team Colo Colo raised a banner at a match, warning: “Without a fiesta, there is no Cup”.
‘Barra bravas’, tied to clubs and most active in neighbouring Argentina, are fanatical and sometimes violent supporters’ groups, often with links to organised crime.
Roa said Chile was working closely with other competing nations and would use ID checks to prevent known trouble-makers from entering stadiums. They were learning lessons from last year’s World Cup in Brazil, he said, without elaborating.
The security head also ruled out the sale of alcohol, which is not allowed at soccer matches in Chile. At the 2014 World Cup, however, the sport’s world governing body FIFA insisted that a similar existing ban in Brazil was overturned.
“That (no alcohol) is the law in Chile...and that law is current and will also be applied to the Copa America,” said Roa.
Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Budweiser is a long-standing sponsor of FIFA, and sponsored both the World Cup and the last 2011 Copa America in Argentina.
However, it is not listed as a sponsor for this year’s tournament, which will take place during the southern hemisphere winter when the average temperature in capital Santiago is around 8 degrees centigrade.
Editing by Ed Osmond