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January 20, 2018
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The law of the jungle

Oscar “Sapo” Gómez, suspected of instigating the assault on Emanuel Balbo — the fan that died after being attacked during the Córdoba derby — pictured shortly before being taken into custody.
By Dan Edwards
For the Herald

The death of Emanuel Balbo after the Córdoba derby a stark reminder of the violence in Argentine soccer

Saturday’s Córdoba derby between Belgrano and Talleres should have been a celebration of all that is positive in Argentine soccer. The two sides were meeting in the top flight for the first time in 15 years, in front of an Estadio Mario Kempes packed to the rafters with expectant Belgrano supporters. Tragically, however, events on the pitch soon took on a secondary importance due to a sickening act of violence in the terraces.

Emanuel Balbo was one of thousands of Belgrano fanatics present for the spectacle. But the youngster never saw the end of the 1-1 draw between the two Córdoba giants, and would never return home to his family. The sequence of events is still to be fully clarified, but it is believed that Balbo confronted Oscar Gómez during the match due to the latter’s involvement in the death of Balbo’s brother in an illegal street race four years previously. The pair argued in the stands, before Gómez made a reprehensible, cowardly decision to save his own skin he shouted that his adversary was a Talleres supporter who in the absence of away fans had infiltrated the home support. Accosted by a horde of aggressors, with fists and boots flying down on him, Balbo was cornered near a perimeter wall, and subsequently hurled off the stand down onto the concrete floor below.

As he lay there dying, the young fan’s trainers were stolen by the vultures around him, before medical attention finally arrived. Having suffered severe head injuries Balbo eventually lost his fight for life on Sunday, while around Argentina the Primera División continued regardless. The 22-year-old becomes just another bitter statistic, the 317th mortal victim of Argentine soccer as per the list compiled by anti-violence NGO Salvemos al Fútbol, and the second son Raúl Balbo is forced to bury. Another young life destroyed, another family ripped apart by the criminal indifference clubs and authorities have towards those who descend on their stadiums every weekend.

“My son usually went to the seated section, but he could not get tickets for this game so he went to the Willington stand,” Balbo senior told reporters, referring to the Belgrano popular. Anyone who has attended Primera División games will be aware that in the popular, the home of the barras, the law of the jungle reigns. Police do not enter the vast standing areas, leaving the imposition of authority to supporters themselves. It goes without saying that the vast majority of those present in the popular are peaceful, content to cheer on their team alongside friends and family and often left with no choice but to stand due to the elevated price of platea tickets. But as the deplorable events of Saturday demonstrate, when trouble does break out, fans are left almost defenceless against the onslaught of a violent element. Complaints of armed robberies on the terraces are also commonplace across the Primera, as are injuries caused by sudden swells and crushes in the crowd when a goal is scored.

Police authorities sustain, and often with good reason, that their presence in the stands would cause more problems than it would solve. Efforts to control fans are centred outside the stadium, through body searches to identify weapons and other prohibited substances, breathalyser tests and the right to refuse entry to those with criminal records or banning orders. Once those security protocols are carried out, supporters are left to fend for themselves, in a frenzied atmosphere free of any visage of authority outside the mob rule of the barra. The efficiency of those measures, meanwhile, can be summed up in the presence of Gómez in the Clásico, free to mingle in the Kempes even with an accusation of manslaughter against him. Diego Fyndman for one will at least live to tell the tale of his own assault; the Belgrano supporter was shot in the eye by a police rubber bullet in a seemingly unprovoked attack, and spent two days in hospital as doctors fought to save his sight. Like Balbo, he found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, standing outside the Kempes as the Talleres team bus approached accompanied by officers.

Balbo’s horrific lynching was caught on security cameras, with the faces of Gómez and four others responsible for the act clearly identifiable. “The charges have changed to murder,” prosecutor Liliana Sánchez told TyC Sports following confirmation of the youngster’s death, and revealed that the suspects face sentences of up to 34 years behind bars. Even if all five receive stiff custodial sentences, it will come as little consolation to the victim’s family who are now left to pick up the pieces. Justice for Emanuel Balbo will not be achieved solely by imprisoning the animals that cut short his life, but by making sure an episode of this nature never occurs again. As long as the law of the jungle holds fast on the terraces, however, that will remain a distant dream.

 

@danedwardsgoal

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