State authorities in north-central Mexico have suspended five officials after a huge brawl among fans during a weekend match left 26 people injured, three critically.
Guadalupe Murguía, the interior secretary of Queretaro state said late Sunday the private company partly responsible for security at the soccer stadium would also have its contracts cancelled.
Police were also at the venue when the brawl occurred Saturday at a match between host Queretaro and Atlas from Guadalajara, the reigning league champion, but were also unable to contain the violence.
The five suspended officials include police and civil defense employees, and three people responsible for planning and preparations.
All matches in Mexico's top division were cancelled Sunday and the league may impose bans on rowdy fans from attending away matches.
Showing just how bad the blood was between Queretaro fans and visitors from Guadalajara, in Jalisco state, Murguía announced that seven men injured in the brawl — presumably visiting Atlas fans — would be given a police escort to the state line when they are released from hospital, to protect them.
“We regret and condemn these events, which run contrary to the spirit of our soccer,” the Mexican Soccer Federation said in a statement. The suspension affected three matches scheduled for Sunday.
The Saturday match was suspended in the 62nd minute after multiple fights broke out in the stands. Security personnel opened the gates to the field so that fans, including women and children, could escape the stands.
Queretaro state authorities said Sunday that 23 men remained hospitalized. Ten were in serious condition and three others were in critical condition with very severe injuries.
They may have been the three men who were seen unconscious or badly beaten on the ground, being repeatedly kicked and pummeled in videos posted on social media.
FIFA, the international soccer governing body, said in a statement that it was “shocked at the tragic incident that took place at La Corregidora stadium in the city of Queretaro during the fixture between Queretaro and Atlas.” It called the violence “unacceptable and intolerable.”
“FIFA joins the Mexican Football Association and Concacaf (the North American soccer federation) in condemning this barbaric incident and encouraging the local authorities to bring swift justice to those responsible. Our thoughts are with all those who suffered its consequences,” the statement said.
Queretaro Gov. Mauricio Kuri said Sunday: “What happened yesterday fills me with pain, with shame and a lot of rage. I have no words strong enough to condemn the violence, the abusiveness and the senselessness of what happened yesterday.”
After the melee broke out, players from visiting Atlas quickly fled to the locker rooms as did some from the Queretaro side. Other Queretaro players, including Uruguayan goalie Washington Aguerre, stayed near the bench trying to calm the fans.
After several minutes some of the fights moved to the field where they continued punching and kicking. Some people were armed with chairs and metal bars.
One fan could be seen pulling a knife to cut the nets of one goal. Others destroyed one side’s bench and some fought in the tunnel to the field.
“The darkest day for Mexican soccer,” was the front-page headline in the Mexican newspaper El Universal on Sunday.
In fact, violence between gangs of rival soccer fans is commonplace at stadiums in Mexico.
Guadalajara is the capital of Jalisco state, and Atlas has also had issues recently with violence among its fans. Last year, the “classic” with crosstown rival Chivas saw a brawl in the stands.
“Unfortunately, what is happening in Queretaro ...is happening in my country,” said Rafael Márquez, a former captain of the Mexican national team who started his career with Atlas and later became its coach.
Kuri condemned the violence and said the owners of the Queretaro club would have to answer for what happened. He also pledged to investigate whether authorities or anyone else had been remiss in not quelling the violence.
“I have given instructions that the law be applied with all of its consequences,” he said. Both teams issued statements condemning the violence.
Mikel Arriola, president of the MX League, said it would likely adopt biometric or facial recognition systems at stadiums to identify troublemakers.
“We have to implement digital security measures to identify those who attend, starting with the barras,” Arriola said, referring to organized fan clubs that are often implicated in violence.
Arriola said he would propose at a club owners meeting Tuesday that those clubs be barred from their teams’ away matches.
State authorities said some police were on duty at the stadium, but that it was largely staffed by private security officers. Video footage of the match suggested the security force was largely made up of female officers, who unsuccessfully tried to break up fights.
Large squads of police are assigned to security at some soccer matches in Mexico.
“The security at the stadium is a private responsibility, but despite that, I recognize that law enforcement was insufficient and did not act with sufficient speed,” Gov. Kuri said.