Brazil: violence around games on the riseBrazil ends 2013 with a record in football violence deaths. It was a miracle that nobody died in the festival of thuggery that took place on 8 December at the Atlético Paranaense v Vasco de Gama match in Joinville, during the last round of the Campeonato Brasileiro, whose shocking images were beamed all around the world. That, however, did not prevent Brazilian football finishing its 2013 season with the saddest of milestones: the 30 deaths in football-related incidents this year is the highest number in the history of the game in the country.
What's more worrying is that fatal cases have been rising steadily in the past few years. Between 1999 and 2008 there were 42 football-related deaths, but in 2012 the number reached 29 for a single year. It is important to understand that the vast majority of those cases occurred outside stadiums and that the experience of watching a football match in Brazil has improved significantly in terms of safety in the past 20 years, but that should be no solace.
This is especially so given that similar scenes to the ones that marred the game in Joinville took place in September at Brasilia's Mané Garrincha stadium, in a match between Corinthians and Vasco. It is one of the new arenas built for the World Cup and touted by authorities as a catalyst for a change in fan behaviour. The incident, however, showed that this transformation is a far more complex issue.
As in Argentina, organised groups of supporters in Brazil are notorious for their penchant for fighting fans of other teams as well as their unscrupulous subsidisation by clubs. They will often receive free tickets and financial help in exchange for favours, such as political support for club elections and even intimidation of opponents.
It's a relationship often denounced by the Brazilian media but that lingers on at every major club in the country, which limits the efficiency of an eventual heavier approach from the authorities. But the recent decision by the Japanese carmaker Nissan to end its sponsorship deal with Vasco because of the savagery in Joinville, which will add to the woes of a club relegated to the wilderness of the second division, could finally make directors feel the pinch and decide to act.
Only chance – or the work of divine forces by some – has prevented Brazil in the past few decades from experiencing its own version of the Heysel disaster. But it is unwise to tempt fate for so long. Fernando Duarte
Eastern Europe: Polish ultras remain a threat after Euro 2012The hope in Poland was that the improvement in stadiums brought by Euro 2012 – not just those grounds that hosted matches during the tournament but also those used as training venues – would inspire a change in attitude similar to the one that occurred in England with the wave of stadium construction in the 90s. The ultras, though, remain a dangerous and violent force.
Only last week, Zaglebie Lubin's Slovakian midfielder Robert Jez was beaten up outside his house by three ultras, while other fans threw bricks at a car driven by the goalkeeper Michal Gliwa. The Latvian forward Deniss Rakels has also received threats as Zaglebie struggle against relegation. "If you don't play, you should be scared," ultras have taken to chanting at home matches.
Ultra groups remain a major issue in both Hungary and Romania, where hooligan groups often loosely espouse far-right politics, with antisemitism and anti-Roma racism rife. Others are just violent: one of the most notorious incidents came two years ago as a Petrolul Ploiesti fan ran on to the pitch during a game against Steaua Bucharest, ran up behind the defender George Galamaz and punched him in the side of the head, breaking his zygomatic bone and leaving him temporarily deaf in his right ear. The Steaua goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu then suffered burns to his back after being hit by a flare thrown from the stand, and the game was abandoned.
So disillusioned have fans in Croatia become with their footballing establishment and, in particular, a voucher scheme that tries to regulate away supporters, that the two main ultra groups of Dinamo and Hajduk, the Bad Blue Boys and Torcida, have declared a truce for the first time since the end of the war. At the recent derby in Zagreb, members of both groups attended the game together as a strangely harmonious show of dissent that made a mockery of the voucher system. Jonathan Wilson
Russia: new law for 2018 World Cup buildupPetty scuffles and small-scale brawls are still common at Russian league matches, and there is a strong link between fan club ultras and the nationalist far right. Ever since hundreds of fans fought pitched battles with police in a central Moscow square in 2010 after the murder of Yegor Sviridov, a Spartak Moscow fan, by a group of Dagestanis, police have been keeping a closer eye on the potential for fan violence.
A new law will come into effect in January, promising much harsher penalties for fans who "disturb public order", with fines of up to £300, threats of community service and a ban on attending games for up to seven years. Police will draw up blacklists of fans who are banned and all stadiums must be fitted with closed-circuit television to keep an eye on incidents.
The law has been in discussion for months and is an attempt to tackle violence and racism in the runup to the 2018 World Cup.
As well as brawls, nationalist and racist chanting is a problem, especially when black players or teams from Russia's mainly Muslim south are playing. In September, Zenit fans burned a Chechen flag during a game with Terek Grozny.
In November, the Dynamo Moscow goalkeeper Anton Shunin was briefly hospitalised after an incident in which he was struck by a flare thrown by a fan during a game against Zenit St Petersburg and received burns to one of his eyes. The match was abandoned, Dynamo were given a 3-0 automatic victory and Zenit were ordered to play two matches behind closed doors.
Also in November, there were clashes as Spartak Moscow played away at second-tier Shinnik Yaroslavl. Police had to use water cannons to disperse fighting supporters, and the game also became notorious when photographs circulated online of Spartak fans unveiling a Nazi flag during the game. Shaun Walker
Italy: players still in fearSalernitana's game at home to Nocerina this November lasted just 20 minutes. That was all it took for the visitors to lose five players to "injury", leaving them with only six on the pitch. They had used up all three of their substitutions in the second minute.
Clearly, this was no accident. Nocerina's players had been reluctant to take the field in the first place after receiving death threats from their own supporters – 200 of whom had shown up at training a day earlier, warning them not to go ahead. The ultras were acting in protest after local authorities banned all away fans from attending this local derby.
Their actions were greeted with disgust in Italy, but all too little surprise. Fan violence had forced bigger games than this one to be halted before now. Salernitana and Nocerina play in the Lega Pro Prima Divisione – the third tier of Italian football – but as recently as April 2012 a top-flight match between Genoa and Siena had to be suspended for 45 minutes after ultras began demanding the shirts off their players' backs.
These are extreme examples, but there have been many less high-profile instances of fan violence directed at both players and at rival supporters. Just this month, three Ajax fans were stabbed before their team's Champions League visit to Milan. More than once in the last year, team buses have been assaulted on their way to and from games.
Various measures have been taken in a bid to stem the tide, from the introduction of the much-maligned tessera del tifoso – a mandatory fan ID card – to the temporary closure of individual stands in some stadiums. And police statistics show that the number of fans injured at matches has dropped sharply since the beginning of 2006. But this problem is still a long way from being resolved. Paolo Bandini
Africa: Hooliganism tends to be spontaneous, not plannedAfrican football tends not to be afflicted by hooliganism in the same way that Europe and South America are. Which is not to say that violence is much rarer. Far from it. It is just that it tends not to be instigated by organised groups who go to matches with the intention of causing trouble. Rather the violence tends to be spontaneous, erupting in response to perceived refereeing injustices or disappointing results. Senegal, for instance, had to play the home leg of their World Cup play-off against Ivory Coast at a neutral venue because of the rioting that broke out in Dakar when the same opponents beat them in the previous year's Africa Cup of Nations play-off.
There are exceptions. In Nigeria, for example, there are organised groups who seek to exert influence through violence and intimidation, in some cases with clubs' tacit support or blatant complicity. In this season's Premier League two clubs were ordered to play matches behind closed doors after fan violence, while the critical title decider between Kano Pillars and Enyimba had to be replayed after a pitch invasion by home fans. Kano and Enyimba both have sets of battle-ready supporters who congregate in a particular section of their stadiums (Kano's volatile fringe dub their chosen hangout in the stands "Iraq", while Enyimba fans call their equivalent spot "Colombia"). Since there tend not to be many travelling fans, the targets of violence tend to be opposition players or, most commonly, referees. The Nigerian Premier League has vowed to increase ground suspensions and club fines after referees threatened to go on strike in protest at their regular persecution.
Elsewhere, orchestrated violence at football has been rooted in political upheaval or social unrest, as in the infamous Port Said massacre of February 2012, when 79 people were killed. Then clashes between fans of Al-Masry and Al-Ahly were fuelled and facilitated by police and military, seemingly as retribution for the involvement of Al-Ahly fans in the Tahrir Square uprising the previous year. When 21 supporters were sentenced to death for their role in that disaster, riots broke out in protest at the severity of the punishment and the perceived scapegoating of fans while agents provocateurs in authority escaped.
Mauritius made a radical attempt to eradicate politically motivated football violence over a decade ago when regular fighting eventually led to catastrophe. A title-decider between the mostly Muslim-supported Scouts Club and a Creole club, Fire Brigade, degenerated into rioting that spread far beyond the stadium and lasted for a week, causing seven fatalities. The national league was suspended for over eight months and a huge restructuring was launched, with several clubs disbanded and none allowed to reform along ethnic or religious lines, only regional ones. The measure worked in the most important sense – it has prevented repeats of such violence at football. But the league has yet to recover as, with their traditional clubs gone, fans tend to restrict their supporting to watching European leagues on TV. Paul Doyle