BOGOTA – The latest fatal victim of soccer-related violence in Latin America died while wearing a T-shirt with a tragically ironic slogan: “Belgrano de mi vida” (Belgrano of My Life).
Twenty-two-year-old Emmanuel Balbo, who died at the hands of a rival team’s fans at a stadium in the central Argentine city of Cordoba, where Club Atletico Belgrano is based, became the 316th such fatality since 1922 in that country.
Argentina is the Latin American nation with the most incidents of soccer hooliganism, according to the Buenos Aires-based Salvemos al Futbol (Let’s Save Soccer) non-governmental organization, but the problem is widespread throughout the region.
On Sept. 28 of last year, 21-year-old Hernan Fioritto was stabbed to death in the small Uruguayan city of Santa Lucia at a celebration to mark the 125th anniversary of the founding of his favorite team, Peñarol.
He was killed by supporters of Peñarol’s archrival, Nacional, Uruguay’s other major soccer club.
Chile also has not been immune to these types of violent episodes.
On April 5, Chilean fans tore off seats and charged at Brazilian police during the Copa Sudamericana playoff match between Corinthians and Universidad de Chile in Sao Paulo.
But the incident still fresh in the minds of Chileans is one that took place on Oct. 3, 2009, when two people died and more than 200 were arrested after the local “clasico” between Colo Colo and Universidad de Chile.
Colombia also suffers from high levels of soccer violence, with Bogota daily El Tiempo reporting in 2013 that one person died every 22 days from acts of hooliganism.
In one notorious incident in July 1994 that stunned the Andean nation, Colombian national team defender Andres Escobar was shot and killed outside a nightclub in Medellin by men linked to a drug gang.
He was slain just days after inadvertently scoring an own-goal during a 2-1 loss to the host United States in that year’s World Cup, a defeat that contributed to Colombia being bounced from that competition in the knockout phase.
“Thanks for the own-goal,” the killers said before shooting Escobar.
The most recent violent incident in Colombia occurred in the city of Barrancabermeja during a match between Alianza Petrolera and Millonarios on April 2, when Carlos Virviescas was fatally stabbed while trying to break up a fight between the rival fans.
Awareness-raising campaigns and beefed-up security measures imported from the United Kingdom have done little to curb soccer violence in Latin America, where a law of the jungle mentality often still prevails and narco culture is frequently glorified in telenovelas.