With the world reeling from a real war – Russia’s appalling invasion of Ukraine – where average citizens take up arms to save their country, it is incomprehensible that the same violent dynamic of us against them takes place on a soccer field on a sunny day. afternoon when fans gathered to watch their teams play.
And yet, that’s exactly what happened in central Mexico on Saturday, when fans of a professional soccer team appear to have attacked fans of the rival team during the match in a bloody brawl that descended into chaos.
The tribalism that sports teams inspire is something I will never understand. I don’t care who wins. I sometimes watch basketball or football on TV, but I’m a proud fan of good weather – the one who watches the last quarter of an important game to understand what everyone’s talking about the next day.
My lack of passion for sports is something I’ve thought about for years, especially when I was married to a man whose mood went up and down with the fortunes of the USC Trojan football team. His behavior was particularly disconcerting because he was a product of the University of California. His identification with the team peaked during the Pete Carroll era, which lasted from 2001 to 2009 and culminated in two national titles.
So yay for USC.
But I just couldn’t understand why my husband’s Saturday was ruined if the Trojans lost. He became sulky and surly. I learned to stay away in those times and came to understand his identification with USC football as something akin to addiction, with ups and downs, something that rendered impotent when under its influence.
One thing I knew for sure, though. Passionate as he was, he would never throw a punch at the fans of a rival team, as happened last weekend in Mexico when dozens of football fans succumbed to their most brutal impulses.
I was in the Guadalupe Valley in northern Baja California on Saturday and was surprised to see my news feeds full of bloody news – not from Ukraine – but from the city of Querétaro. , in central Mexico.
Minutes into the second half of a soccer match between defending champions Atlas de Guadalajara and home side Querétaro FC, fans incited a violent riot which spilled over the ground and caused people to run for their lives.
Like my colleague Kevin Baxter wrote, “Fans attacked each other with chairs, metal bars, knives, belts, fists and feet.” The hardcore fans of Querétaro, he writes, are called barras braves, or “fierce gangs”, the south of the border equivalent of UK sports hooligans. On Saturday, they lived up to their reputation. Most of the victims were Atlas fans, authorities said.
It was a brutal hand-to-hand combat, where the “enemies” identified each other by their team shirts.
My feeds were full of wild and heartbreaking images, including the sight of a terrified family — mother, father and two boys — running across the field, hand in hand. The eldest, who appeared to be around 10, was naked from the waist down, his shirt apparently removed for safety. There were videos of officers dragging a naked, unconscious man and security guards watching the fight without intervening. Video appeared to show a security guard opening a door-like barrier that was supposed to separate opposing fans.
On Monday, Mexican authorities said more than 25 people were injured, at least three seriously. But onlookers and at least one reporter, TV Azteca journalist David Medrano, said people had been killed in the violence. Later, Medrano apologized for claiming there had been deaths, saying that his emotions got the better of him. Many fans are still questioning official government reports that no one died.
On Tuesday, the Office of the Attorney General of Querétaro published a photograph of 10 suspects who had been arrested in connection with the brawl. Many tips came from social networks. The Mexican Liga MX has announced that the owners of the Querétaro club have been banned from the league for five years.
Heaps of sociological and psychological information to research over the decades have attempted to explain strong identification that fans have with their chosen teams, and how they act in victory and defeat. (There’s nothing weirder to me than the tradition of riot after the championship. And it’s worth noting that most of these episodes are entirely male-directed.)
In 1991, a pair of University of Kansas Psychologists argued that a strong identification with teams “provides a buffer against feelings of depression and alienation, and at the same time promotes feelings of belonging and self-esteem”.
In 2011, New York Times reporter Adam Sternbergh wrote a lovely essay on the emotional perils of fandom after the Boston Red Sox, favorites to win the American League East championship and possibly even qualify for the World Series, lost a nine-game lead and missed out entirely the playoffs that year.
Being a sports fan, Sternbergh wrote, “allows you to feel a real emotional investment in something that has no real consequences in the real world…. As a fan, you will feel real joy or real pain – it’s precisely what non-sports fans usually ridicule being a sports fan – versus events that really don’t affect your life at all.
In theory, that’s true.
But the many people terrorized and injured last Saturday would surely disagree.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.