The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
Brazilian football under scrutiny again ahead of World Cup after attack by fans on players
SAO PAULO - With the World Cup just months away, Brazilian football is under the spotlight for the wrong reasons again after players from one of the country's most popular clubs were attacked by fans upset with the team's struggles.
This weekend's attack happened at a training centre which will be used during the World Cup, and comes amid uncertainty over the start of this year's Brazilian league because of ongoing lawsuits and bribery allegations.
Brazil's image has already been tarnished by its problematic World Cup preparations - with host city Curitiba still in danger of being dropped - and last year a flood of fan violence plagued Brazilian stadiums and raised safety concerns ahead of football's showcase event.
More violence was reported this weekend, and a video being shown by local media shows four police officers using batons to strike a lone supporter allegedly involved in fan fighting during a match in the central state of Goias.
Nearly 100 fans cut through a wire of mesh fence on Saturday to invade Corinthians' training grounds, which is where Iran's national team will be based during the World Cup in June. They attacked team employees and grabbed Peruvian striker Paolo Guerrero by his neck, forcing other players to flee into a locker room and barricade themselves until police arrived.
FIFA and the local World Cup organizing committee said Monday they could not directly comment about the attack because they are not involved in the management of the training centre.
"This represents the failure of the Brazilian state," Corinthians President Mario Gobbi said Monday. "It was something that shocked everyone, and it still hurts. Teams don't lose because they want to lose. It's something that happens in football. Authorities are the ones responsible for handling this type of violence, not the clubs."
Corinthians, which won the 2012 Club World Cup thanks to a goal by Guerrero in the final against Chelsea, threatened not to play on Sunday because of the attack, but in the end players were convinced to get on the field in respect to other fans and sponsorship deals. The team lost 2-1 to Ponte Preta, marking the third defeat in a row for the country's second-most popular club, behind Flamengo.
"We can't accept this type of violence. This is not the football that we want to see here in Brazil," Corinthians coach Mano Menezes said. "When something like this happens, you just feel like going home."
Fan violence in Brazilian stadiums was common last year, culminating with a few fans seriously injured in a confrontation at a decisive match in the league's final round, prompting FIFA to release a statement at the time reassuring that during the World Cup such cases were not expected inside stadiums.
Football's governing body reiterated on Monday that the successful security plan used in stadiums during last year's Confederations Cup will be in place again.
"For the World Cup, a thorough security plan will be part of an integrated operation by private and public entities to guarantee the safety of fans, players and all participants of the event."
FIFA remains concerned, though, with the recent turmoil in the Brazilian league, which may not start on time because of a series of civil lawsuits against a sports tribunal decision that altered the league's final standings last year. Public prosecutors reiterated Monday that they will continue to seek legal action against the federation, which could be considered a breach of FIFA's statutes and lead to sanctions for clubs and the federation itself.
Prosecutors are also investigating whether officials from minnow club Portuguesa received money to deliberately get the team relegated by fielding a suspended player in the final round, which led to a four-point penalty and allowed defending champion Fluminense to avoid relegation.
FIFA this month will also have to decide whether it will be able to keep the southern city of Curitiba as a World Cup host city. Local organizers have until Feb. 18 to show they can get the city's stadium ready before the tournament begins.
FIFA named Brazil as the World Cup host in 2007, but it has had to constantly deal with preparation problems. The country promised to have all 12 stadiums ready by the end of last year, but five remain under construction less than five months before the opener on June 12.
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