Among soccer fans worldwide, Argentina’s “barras bravas,” Italian “ultras,” and British hooligans are the fan groups best known for perpetrating violence. However, soccer aficionados know that Brazil’s Torcidas Organizadas (organized fans, or TOs) also mix violence, soccer fans, and crime, especially in the state of São Paulo.
Recently, the country’s most important criminal organization, the Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC), executed eight TO members in a drug dispute in São Paulo city.
The eight victims were members of Corinthians supporters Pavilhão Nove. All eight were executed on the night of Saturday, 18 April 2015, at their group headquarters, in the biggest mass killing the city has seen in months. Police say three assasins subdued the victims, lined them up, and executed each with a single shot to the head. Allegedly, the perpetrators initially meant to target just one of the victims.
So far São Paulo authorities have made no arrests in the case, but suspect criminal group the PCC. Authorities have also said they believe the squabble was related to a dispute over drug sale territories. The PCC controls most, if not all the crime in the state of São Paulo. According to police, there was a disagreement between one of the leaders of Pavilhão Nove and PCC about business in a key region in São Paulo’s west zone.
Two people survived the attack. The first was a janitor, who was ordered to wrap himself in a flag that would be used in the match against Palmeiras on Sunday 19 April 2015. The second survivor was a lucky young man: the criminals ran out of ammo. Members of other fan groups believe that the massacre was a message to all TOs in São Paulo.
Most TOs in São Paulo are linked to the PCC. Members that reject the influence of the tier one criminal group say there are often meetings at their headquarters to talk about drug distribution points, transportation of narcotics to other states, protection of recently released members and payment of fees to support the organization (membership fees). TO leaders deny it, but the execution at Pavilhão Nove’s headquarters makes the ties evident.
Another Corinthians fan club recently showed how PCC affects soccer in Brazil. A group called Gaviões da Rua São Jorge broke away from Gaviões da Fiel, because they rejected the influence of the criminal organization. Their principal reason for splitting however, is somewhat ironic: the very aggressive faction that split complained that PCC leaders don’t like deadly violence between soccer fan clubs because it affects their business.
PCC’s control over TOs has replicated its control over crime in São Paulo, stopping confrontations in the name of business. Gaviões da Rua São Jorge rejected that premise, however, it is one of the few groups to do so.
In March 2014, two tons of marijuana were seized by police at the Gaviões da Fiel headquarters in São Paulo. A few weeks earlier, 300 kilos of cocaine and crack were found at Torcida Uniformizada do Palmeiras’s (TUP) samba school warehouse. That group is linked to Palmeiras, one of four major teams in São Paulo state, all of which have TOs linked to the PCC. Police admit there are many difficulties in breaking into the inner circle of those soccer clubs, since the PCC’s network is based on the prison system. PCC criminal have targeted police officers on numerous occasions since 2006, all of which have raised the murder rate in São Paulo state, and especially the rate of police murders. In 2006, a series of PCC attacks even brought the city of São Paulo to a halt.
The government of São Paulo stated that PCC has more than 15,000 members, half of whom are in prison. The group is active in at least 22 of Brazil’s 26 states, as well as in Paraguay, Bolivia, and Chile. In 2012, they sponsored their last wave of violence in São Paulo, and more than 100 people were killed. Victims included police officers, rivals and relatives of inmates who didn’t pay their membership fees or owed money to the organization.
Organized fan groups are problematic throughout the world, as local security apparatuses struggle to secure sporting events. However in few places do they intersect with criminal groups such as the PCC. The killing of eight Pavilhão Nove members is a hallmark of TO-PCC interaction, and is a warning to authorities throughout Brazil.