It’s still unclear how many people were killed, if any. Jon Arnold, an independent soccer reporter based in Dallas, spoke to Texas Standard about the league’s reaction this week, and what it means for the future of Mexican soccer. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: What’s known about how this violence began and how it escalated?
John Arnold: We don’t know that much. There’s some history between the organized fan groups of these two teams, but not a lot. And I think that’s part of the reason that things were able to get out of hand as they were. This isn’t one of Mexico’s biggest soccer rivalries. It’s really kind of an everyday game. But there were a lot of traveling Atlas fans to watch their team, the current reigning champion of Mexico. And it was about 50-50 in the stands. And I think that combination of frustration from the local fans, that they were being outnumbered and outshouted and outsung – there are regional rivalries that are much more known for the spice they can have.
If the if there is an element of rivalry, it is between these two organized groups where they’ve had some fights in the past. But even that has kind of faded into memory. So I think that’s part of the reason that these groups were able to have as ugly of a brawl as they did and things were able to cross the line as much as they did. Because really, I don’t think anyone saw this as a potential flashpoint,
This huge cloud of mystery hanging over what actually happened. Officials in Querétaro have denied that anyone died at the game. But many people who were there have said they did see people killed. Why hasn’t that been acknowledged by authorities? And how grim could the figures be? I’ve seen some incredible numbers that are mind boggling.
It’s difficult to wrap our heads around because the government officials continue to say very strongly, no one has died in this incident. And some of the earlier reports had as many as 17 deaths. But it seems – thankfully – clear that’s not going to be the exact case. There was a fan reported dead whose family then came out and said, “he’s not dead. Please stop spreading this lie in the media.”
But it’s understandable. There’s a culture of skepticism in Mexico because whether it’s politics, sports or basically any other area of life, unfortunately, we’ve seen over and over again, government officials obscure the truth. “Put makeup” is the term that’s used in Spanish. Put makeup on some of these things to make them look better. So until we have reports from people on the ground – the reporters who go to the morgue to say what happened, or family members who say this is who is missing, this is who we lost, it’s not really clear if there will be any deaths from this.
Look after we saw the videos, after we saw the fighting, it would be a huge, huge miracle and tribute to the forces there in Querétaro taking care of people – ambulances, paramedics, et cetera – if it results that there are no deaths. But it was really difficult to watch those videos, really difficult to see those scenes and really tough to believe that nothing fatal happened.
How much pressure is Liga MX, Mexico’s pro soccer league, under to prevent something like this from happening again? And what can they do?
The response has been kind of surprisingly limited. Querétaro’s current owners are forced to sell the team. They won’t be able to to host games in the state for around a year. That goes for the men’s, women’s and youth teams. And these barras, these organized groups, are prevented from traveling all throughout Mexico. Now the Querétaro barra, specifically, has been banned for three years. But beyond that, the league is continuing this weekend as normal with increased security.
I think that one of the ideas that’s surging is kind of a fan ID, making everyone scan a code to get into the stadium, linked to their ID. So in case something happens, they’re easily found and arrested or easily identified. But there is enormous pressure on Mexico, not only because of how terrifying and ugly these events were this weekend, but also because this is a country that’s scheduled to host the 2026 World Cup in a joint bid with the United States and Canada. And the eyes of the world truly will be upon Mexico at that time. You want to project a good image. You don’t want to have this image of ultra violence that has been the stereotype of Mexico for so long. But after you see incidents like this, it’s sort of difficult to unlink. So I think there’s big pressure on league officials and politicians to make sure there’s not anything like this in the next several years as we look towards the World Cup and also just for human decency – we don’t want to see these scenes anymore.