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Soccer regularly shamed by fan violence

LONDON --A fan is shot to death by police in Paris. A police officer dies during riots at a game in Sicily. Players are threatened with fake pistols in Germany and soccer violence plagues the sport in South America. So why do they call it the beautiful game?

After the comparative peace of a 2006 World Cup in Germany that some feared would be a scene of slaughter, there were hopes that soccer fans had finally realized it wasn't cool to cause trouble.

Sadly, Germany 2006 was a false dawn, and now the game is shamed by fan violence from Buenos Aires to Belgrade almost on a regular basis.

On Saturday, 13 people were injured during clashes between fans and riot police after a game between Belgrade rivals Red Star and Partizan. Red Star fans, angered by their team's 4-2 loss, built barricades with trash bins as police on horseback charged them.

Dynamo Dresden players said they were accosted on the way to Sunday's training by dozens of hooligans, some wielding fake guns.

"I have never experienced anything like this," Dresden forward Marco Vorbeck said. "You have to be scared for your life and family here. You have to consider whether to quit playing here."

German soccer federation president Theo Zwanziger acknowledges recent fan violence in Germany has reached a new level, the worst cases centered in the east German state of Saxony -- in Dresden and nearby Leipzig.

"It's scary," Zwanziger said. "That is a dangerous environment. ... You just have to put a match to the fuse and everything will explode."

In Sicily on Feb. 2, police officer Filippo Raciti died after being hit by a blunt object as fans fought with police inside and outside Catania's Angelo Massimino stadium during an Italian league game against local rival Palermo. About 100 people were injured and Italian soccer authorities postponed an entire round of games and closed down stadiums that didn't satisfy safety regulations.

Dutch club Feyenoord was kicked out of the UEFA Cup last month after its fans smashed windows in the French city of Nancy. The game was halted for 20 minutes when police fired tear gas into the fighting Feyenoord fans.

Before Paris Saint-Germain's UEFA Cup game against Israel club Hapoel Tel Aviv in November, local fans were attacking a visiting supporter and PSG supporter Julien Quemener was shot dead by a plain clothes police officer.

While Brazilians insist on calling soccer "the beautiful game", in Argentina barely a week goes by without soccer violence somewhere.

Two weeks ago at the opening of Argentina's first-division Clausura tournament, rival hooligan groups backing River Plate fought with each other at the Monumental Stadium complex.

Four people were wounded and Argentina's government said the team could not use the famed stadium, site of Argentina's '78 World Cup victory, for five of River Plate's home games.

On the same day as the River Plate fighting, a 15-year-old boy died and 12 others were injured in the western Argentina city of Mendoza during fan fighting at another game.

Games in Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Colombia also are tarnished by repeated violence

"We are worried about these incidents in Latin America," said Nicolas Leoz, president of the South American soccer federation (CONMEBOL). "This violence has nothing whatsoever to do with genuine soccer."

UEFA's new president, Michel Platini, said the action taken against Feyenoord shows that the governing bodies are taking a strong line against soccer violence.

Not strong enough, it seems.

The deaths in Paris and Sicily suggest that officials at FIFA, UEFA and CONMEBOL and other soccer's authorities may have to take stronger steps to convince the fans that violence and racism should have no part in soccer.

Until then, let's hope that Argentina's River Plate never organizes a European tour of Paris, Sicily, Leipzig and Belgrade.