By Hugh Bronstein
BUENOSAIRES (Reuters) – Argentina’s president on Monday called for Congress to pass a bill in special session that would crack down on soccer hooliganism after a weekend melee derailed the final leg of the region’s main club tournament.
President Mauricio Macri wants a law that would more severely punish the kind of violence that over the weekend shut down the second leg of the Copa Libertadores soccer final between River Plate and Boca Juniors.
The riot was especially embarrassing to the country as it prepares to host a summit of the G20 bloc of nations on Friday.
A visibly angry Macri went on television to denounce criminal soccer fan organizations, called ‘Barras Bravas’, that are known for dealing drugs, extorting rank-and-file fans and demanding protection money from small businesses located near stadiums.
“We reject the mafias that are often behind this type of violence,” Macri said. “I hope that after this embarrassment, we can get a law passed in extra sessions of Congress.”
Security Minister Patricia Bullrich said the law would stiffen penalties against violence related to soccer matches.
The decisive leg of the tournament had been set to be played on Saturday, but was suspended until Sunday after Boca players were injured when their bus was attacked by River fans outside Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires.
Some of Boca’s players had not sufficiently recovered by Sunday, so the game was again postponed. The heads of both clubs were expected to meet on Tuesday to decide when to reschedule.
Macri said the incident was particularly “sad and frustrating” because it happened five days ahead of a meeting of the G20 bloc of industrialized nations in Buenos Aires, which he has touted as part of the country’s effort at attracting foreign investment despite its high rate of inflation and recession.
He also said he was incensed that the 23 people arrested in Saturday’s melee had already been set free. He said this showed the need for tougher laws against soccer hooligans.
“The people are free. I don’t understand. I don’t understand in the name of all Argentines,” Macri said in a raised voice. “I don’t understand the reaction of the justice system.”
The Copa Libertadores is South America’s equivalent of Europe’s Champion’s League. This year marked the first time Argentina’s two biggest clubs had met for the title.
The cross town showdown had been billed as the greatest final in the competition’s 58-year history.
(Additional reporting by Maximilian Heath; Editing by Bill Berkrot)