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The Case Against Patches

LAST WEEK, the reputation of Buenos Aires City as a hub of non-stop clubbing and nightlife was endangered on Friday, when City Judge Roberto Gallardo ruled that all commercial activity regarding live or recorded music or dancing would be banned until the City Mayor, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, implemented adequate health and safety regulations, particularly regarding drugs. The ruling came on the back of the Time Warp electronic festival earlier this month that went awry, with the deaths of five attendees after consuming designer drugs.

Mayor Larreta responded by saying that the ruling was “nonsensical,” appealed and managed to get the ruling lifted less than 24 hours later, saving Buenos Aires citizens’ weekend. Hooray!

Whatever the credentials of the mayor as hero of the night[life], the Buenos Aires City government had already banned electronic festivals until further notice. So in fact he had fought one “nonsensical” regulation that was simply an extreme of his government’s existing policy.

The problem is not that electronic festivals have been banned: if the City government is truly incapable of handling the issue of drugs in music festivals, it could be argued that banning said events until the safety of all the participants can be minimally guaranteed makes sense. However, when looking to the national policies implemented to curb football violence, this logic has a time limit as prolonged patches of the sort can lead to Gordian knots and misplaced blame.

Violence in football is not a problem restricted to Argentina: hooliganism has been in football lexicon since the 1960s, a phenomenon that has spread beyond the borders of its native U.K. Tougher laws were introduced, barring unruly fans and banning alcohol in the stadium, for example, while the infamous U.K CCTV system made the “hooligans” more accountable for their behaviour, the increased likelihood of being caught acting as a deterrent.

If we look at Argentina’s situation regarding football, the barras bravas (organized groups of extremist football supporters) have a mafia element that hooliganism didn’t have and yet the legislation has not directly targeted the people responsible for the extreme violence (at least, not effectively). Matches were made to be behind closed doors, fans could only access the stadium with ID and after previous subscription to each individual match, points were deducted from the teams, flag sizes were regulated and currently, the opposing side of the home fans cannot be present at the stadium in which a team is playing. Meanwhile, the barras bravas remain relatively untouched and the state of affairs have reached realms of incredulity as members of the same side turn against each other.

The inherent corruption involved in the barras bravas, who make money from odd jobs such as re-selling tickets or acting as “security” is the issue that has not been tackled: police will not apprehend violent fans if they are benefitting from the arrangements, nor will barras bravas tone down their behaviour if they are ushered into the stadium by a police escort (this is what actually occurs, by the way).

The result? The problem has now mutated: it is no longer barras bravas from different teams attacking each other, but internal factions from within the same barra brava turning on each other (a veritable mafia). Less fans —not extreme ones— are able —or willing— to go and watch the game, while the issue itself solidifies beneath the confusing Gordian knot of extended temporary rules that skirt around punishing the barras themselves.

Innocent people suffering from ineffective legislation is corollary of misplaced blame that often occurs when there is not a straightforward policy on a deep social phenomenon such as football violence. Only last week, twenty seven years after the tragedy, did U.K courts find that the deaths of 96 people in the Hillsborough stadium fell under the responsibility of the police, not the presumed “hooligans,” the victims who were crushed to death. Since the Time Warp tragedy, only two weeks ago, there has been a non-stop blame game between the City government, the organisers of the event (who have been arrested), the party-goers, the drug dealers and even the national Security Minister. There is a definite danger that in the weeks to come, an effective approach could be jeopardised if the blame game is reflected in the ensuing reform proposals.

While the intention of applying new rules is commendable, the Argentine contradiction of not complying with the laws and being very bureaucratic with a love for creating new rules comes to the forefront. Before introducing reform, the rules that are already in place ought to be implemented in full in order to make the temporary electronic festival ban redundant. As seen in the football example, today electronic festival that are to blame, tomorrow it may be the DJs, songs that talk about drugs, etc., with multiple caveats and patches that could eventually amount to Gallardo’s “nonsensical” ruling on Friday.

One reason why hooliganism eventually died down (albeit not completely) in the UK was because society also changed over the thirty years in which it was known as the English Disease. The reader does not need me to tell them that each society and culture is different, as should the laws that apply to such deep-rooted issues that do not have a true “cure.” Thus, while patchwork is pretty and covering up holes looks good, it may be best to keep patchwork in the embroidery and quilts section, not in politics and policies regarding very complex issues such as drugs or football related violence. It’s time to go to the tailor.

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