Flares can burn recent gains made by Vietnamese football

By Song Viet   September 23, 2019 | 09:51 pm PT
Flares can burn recent gains made by Vietnamese football
Flares burn on Hang Day Stadium in Hanoi during a V.League match on April 21, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Lam Thoa.
The high popularity of Vietnamese football can be undermined by the shooting of flares, keeping fans away from league games.

The home ground of Hanoi FC is no stranger to flares.

They have been set off during league matches against Hai Phong FC, Duoc Nam Ha Nam Dinh and Song Lam Nghe An. This should be treated as a security lapse by game organizers.

The Hang Day Stadium has a capacity of 15,000, of which just 2,000 seats are spared for away fans. It cannot be that difficult for organizers to carry out security checks on away fans.

However, from 2016, at least seven incidents of flares being set off have been reported, indicating lax security at the Hang Day stadium.

Hang Day Stadium managers were fined for five of these incidents, but there was no ban on games being held here. The Vietnam Football Federation (VFF) did hand out a ban earlier this year, but changed it later to a monetary fine.

The latest incident, however, has highlighted the issue of fans'’ safety, with a woman seriously injured after a flare was shot into another stand. One of her legs was burned to the bone and has required two surgeries so far.

This incident could well raise concerns from FIFA, with less than a month to go before the World Cup qualification match against Malaysia to be played at home. The fine slapped on the Vietnam Football Federation after fans let off flares at the Asian Games 2018 is still on record.

While the VFF has punished most violations, these haven't been sufficient enough to repeat occurrence of fans lighting flares during matches. The problem is more serious than one that can be resolved merely by imposing fines.

And the uneven nature of the VFF's sanctions is also a problem. For example, for two matches that were played in the same stadium, the amount of fines levied can be quite different.

After the game between Hanoi FC and Hai Phong in round six of V. League this season, VFF fined each club VND70 million ($3,014). But then two rounds later, when flares appeared at a match between Viettel FC and Song Lam Nghe An at the Hang Day Stadium, each team was only fined VND20 million ($861).

In the latest incident where a flare seriously injured a fan, Hanoi FC and Nam Dinh have to play the rest of their matches "behind closed doors," but is this enough to make sure that flares won't come back?

The VFF has not taken the cue from what has been happening elsewhere.

Take, for instance, the famous Milan derby between Inter Milan and AC Milan in the quarterfinals of the Champions League in 2005.

Flares are considered a specialty of the derby at the San Siro Stadium, but European football's ruling body UEFA didn't like the look of it at all. Inter, as the hosts of the match, had to forfeit the match for a 0-3 score, and they had to play six matches without their supporters, not to mention pay a huge fine of $325,000.

Another example is the 2018 World Cup qualifying match where Malaysia also had to forfeit with a 0-3 score and play one match without supporters because their fans used flares and threw strange objects on to the field and interrupted the match against Saudi Arabia back in 2015.

Such penalties have never been applied in V-League. The recent penalties for Hanoi FC and Nam Dinh are the harshest punishments till date – two games without supporters and a fine of VND85 million ($3,660) each.

It not hard to see that the habit of lighting flares during the V-League games is spreading to national team games. During a 2018 World Cup qualification game at Hanoi's My Dinh Stadium, a flare display celebrated a goal. Vietnam was lucky that FIFA didn't punish that.

This might change, however, in the light of the fan's injury.

V. League is paying the price for poor management and loose regulations. It took many years for the fans to return to watch domestic league games, partly thanks to remarkable results obtained by the national team under coach Park Hang-seo.

But flares and violence in the stands can push the fans away from V. League matches yet again. This would also affect the ability of V. League to produce new talents for the country.

*Song Viet is a Vietnamese reporter. The opinions expressed are his own.

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