Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Beware Of Ultra Violent Rage

Tuesday night’s Champions League match between Atlético Madrid and Olympique Marseille promises to be a tense affair, something which has little to do with what happens on the pitch. A court in Madrid this week sentenced an Olympique fan to 3.5 years in prison for offences allegedly committed in the previous game between the two clubs. The supporter involved, Santos Mirasierra (yes he is of Spanish descent), is a member of one of the groups of “ultras” who follow the French club.

The sentence Mirasierra was given is almost worth using as a case study in how the law can be misused by a zealous prosecution and complacent judges who find demanding proof of guilt to be a bit tiresome. The only offence which they could say with any certainty that he was involved in was pushing a policeman. The incident took place during a clumsy and aggressive action by the Spanish police to try and remove a banner from a group of Olympique fans. The police justified their action on the grounds that the banner contravened UEFA regulations. Strangely, UEFA disagreed with this judgement and even went so far as to impose a punishment on Atlético because of it. Of course, in standard UEFA fashion, what started as a punishment involving the club playing two games far from their own stadium ended up as a one game sanction played at home behind closed doors. The punishment was incomprehensible to Atleti fans and I certainly wouldn’t stand up for UEFA’s consistency in dealing with such issues, but the sentence against Mirasierra smacks of a judicial revenge for the fuss made over the incidents that night.

Apart from anything else, the trial of Santos Mirasierra introduced the interesting concept of co-authorship. What this means in the context of his sentence is that if you are in the vicinity of a group of people throwing chairs at the police and it turns out that you are the only person arrested then you are guilty of what everybody else did. Regardless of the absence of any evidence proving your involvement in the events. It’s a fantastic catch-all concept and it almost puts me off the idea of going to any more Spanish football games, where outbreaks of throwing all sorts of objects onto the pitch are distressingly common. Ah, but there’s the catch, when it happens in a purely Spanish game neither police nor club seem to be in the least bit worried. Indeed the ultras of some Spanish clubs are amongst the most pampered of supporters, often enjoying a close relationship with those in charge. Only this week we have had reports of how Real Madrid president Ramon Calderón enjoyed the vociferous support of a group of ultras in what promised to be a difficult club annual meeting.

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