In soccer-obsessed Brazil, going to a match means a chance to see some of the best players in the world–and face the possibility of getting beaten up or even killed.
A state championship in May ended with police firing grenades into a mob of fans who were attacking rivals with sticks and seats torn from the stadium. It wasn’t a rare event. In the last few decades, more than 200 people have died futebol-related deaths in the nation.
One of the country’s largest soccer clubs decided to try something new to prevent brawling. If fans wanted to attend a huge match this spring, they had to agree to walk to the stadium with a fan of the opposing team–and sit next to each other for the whole game.
“Rivals on and off the field must live within the limits of respect and humanity,” says Luiz Henrique Nuñez, president of media and marketing for Sport Club Internacional, the club that set up the experiment.
It was a success: No one fought, and the fans loved the idea. “There was no resistance from the fans,” Nuñez says. “Instead of this, the idea was well received and even generated some enthusiasm.”
The club has already repeated the experiment in two other games, and plans to continue. The hope is to help shift the culture of violence in soccer. “Over the years a climate has been created which has generated this culture of violence, this habit that crowds with huge rivalry developed and brought to the games,” he says. “The challenge is to change this culture.”
The early results are encouraging. “It is still early to say that this action is able to stop the violence in stadiums in days of great rivalries, but it certainly decreases, inhibits and is an important starting point to solve this issue,” says Nuñez. “We saw clearly that people have come to see the real possibility of change.”
The club isn’t the only one to try unusual approaches to curbing violence: The Sporto Club do Recife hired fans’ mothers to act as security guards, in the hopes that everyone would be too embarrassed to fight in front of a mother (it worked, too).