The story behind the shocking death of a Belgrano supporter

Fans demand better security from the government

Emanuel Balbo was beaten by supporters of the same team and thrown over the side of the stand in Mario Alberto Kempes Stadium in Córdoba, Argentina. He died from his injuries two days later. Photos of the tragic incident have shocked the world. Balbo, 22, was left in a coma after hitting his head on impact, suffering cardiac arrest and major brain trauma, before succumbing to his injuries.

The incident occurred last Saturday during halftime of a match between Belgrano and Talleres. Fans of the two teams were kept apart during the game to avoid violent incidents, but the security measure didn’t do much good in this instance.

What happened exactly?

Video footage broadcast on the sports channel TyC Sports shows supporters punching Balbo in the stands and then pushing him over a railing. According to reports, one fan had shouted that Balbo was a supporter of the rival team – Talleres – even though he was wearing a Belgrano shirt.

Balbo was then beaten by fans and chased to the bottom of the stand. He tried to escape their punches by climbing over the railing but was lifted and thrown off the edge of the terrace.

Police then found the victim lying motionless on a concrete staircase below and he was taken to hospital with severe head injuries. ‘His condition is critical, to the point that there is very little activity, he has few signs of cerebral vitality,’ the director of the medical centre, Maximiliano Tittarelli, told radio station Cadena 3.

Between Sunday night and Monday morning, police arrested four people implicated in the attack, including a father and his underage son.

Later on Monday, the prime suspect was also detained. This man, Oscar Gómez – the one who’d first accused Balbo of being a Talleres fan – had been involved in the death of Balbo’s brother five years earlier.

In November 2012, Emanuel’s brother, Agustín Balbo, who was 14 at the time, and his friend Enrique Diaz, 15, were killed when they were hit by a car that was racing another vehicle.

One of the drivers was Oscar Gómez. Although the two drivers were arrested and tried, there has still been no sentence for the accident.

Balbo’s death was not directly related to what happened on the field, but the fact that he was accused of being a Talleres fan made the other Belgrano supporters join in the attack instead of defending him. The fanaticism and aggression of some supporters is leading Argentines to question whether the violence-curbing measures imposed by President Macri have accomplished anything.

As of three years ago, visiting fans are no longer permitted to attend away games. However, the space that was freed up in the stands meant that the number of local supporters’ groups then multiplied.

‘Now, there’s the official supporters’ group, and a rival group. The police legitimise the official group to keep the other group from getting involved. Police officers even escort them when they enter and leave the stadium,’ explained Luciano Bottesi, a journalist with Diario Popular.

Macri also implemented the ‘Tribuna Segura’ programme, a measure that increased the number of police officers at stadium gates. Anyone who wants to enter a sports venue now must now show their ID to a police officer. Each document is scanned and checked against a database.

In theory, if an individual has a police record he is not allowed to enter. Officers can also check whether the person belongs to a supporters’ group.

In practice however, things don’t work quite so smoothly. Supporters’ groups can still enter stadiums using false ID, while the black market in arms, drugs, merchandising and tickets continues to thrive.

The tragic death of Balbo wasn’t the only violent incident during the Córdoba derby. An hour before the match kicked off, a 25-year-old man was shot in the face with a rubber bullet when Belgrano fans attacked the bus that players from Talleres were arriving in. He received serious wounds to one eye. 

Balbo’s death takes the total number of fatalities in Argentine football stadiums up to 316 since 1922, according to the Salvemos al Fútbol (Saving Football) organisation. Macri has been set the challenge of bringing an end to football stadium violence in Argentina once and for all. Will he be able to meet it?


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