Love of the Sport

It is well known that Brazilian soccer fans are among the most passionate in the world, and fights do sometimes break out in soccer matches, but the sheer brutality of this incident is extraordinary. It sent shockwaves throughout Brazil, the country that had played host to the Confederations Cup just one month earlier and, most notably, is preparing to host the 2014 World Cup in June.

Paulo Storani, a Brazilian security expert who spent three decades in the country’s police forces, called the slayings “an isolated incident” stressing that it in no way reflects on Brazil’s ability to ensure security at the World Cup – or for that matter at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, also to be held in Brazil.

But before the question of security, perhaps we should begin by asking: what turns normal individuals at a casual sporting event into an agitated mob capable of quartering and decapitating another human being? What cultivates a mob mentality – particularly in situations where people don’t know each other? Despite the provocation brought on by the stabbing of a player, why was da Silva not just handed over to authorities once subdued, or even beaten around a bit? It wasn’t immediately obvious that Abreu’s wounds were fatal. Clearly, some line had been crossed.

Body on Soccer Field

Group violence is most likely to occur when the group is large, people are able to remain anonymous, and participants experience a diffusion of responsibility – a sense that their personal actions have no direct repercussions. These are classic characteristics of gangs – and sporting venues, as it turns out.

Because fans don’t know each other, and due to the typically large size of the group, the anonymity of individual group members is significant and apparent. Moreover, there is a commonality in the group: they usually all seek the same outcome.

Perhaps most importantly, they greatly outnumber the minority – as well as those in charge – so they feel a sense of empowerment, fueled by a strong solidarity with their team. Indeed, the team represents the fan, and any injustice done to the team, or a team member, is perceived as an injustice done to the fan.

The urge to retaliate overwhelms just one individual, and just one action incites other group members into a similar response, culminating in a frenzy of one-upmanship that seldom fits the original crime.

As a final note to this story, a video has recently surfaced of da Silva’s body as it is being handled by medical professionals after the incident. Here is a direct link. Before you click through, be warned this is exceptionally graphic.

Oh, and please be well-behaved the next time you attend a sporting event. It really is just a game after all.