Social unrest in the Chilean capital of Santiago has forced the Copa Libertadores final to be moved to Lima in Peru.
The match between Argentine giants River Plate, the defending champion, and Brazilian outfit Flamengo has been switched because of the recent violence that has gripped Chile.
What started as a student protest against rising metro fares has spiralled into widespread clashes with government forces because of concerns over inequality and corruption.
Delegates from both clubs, as well as representatives from the Brazilian and Argentine football associations, met at CONMEBOL — South American football’s governing body — headquarters for five hours before making the decision to move the final for the second year in a row. It is still scheduled for the original date of November 23.
“We understand that the most viable option for everyone, and with guarantees from the Peruvian government, is that [the game is played in Lima],” said CONMEBOL’s president Alejandro Dominguez. As yet, the decision on which stadium will host the match has not been made.
Last year, River Plate and national rival Boca Juniors played the second leg of the final in Madrid, Spain after River fans attacked the bus carrying the Boca squad outside the host stadium in Buenos Aires.
At the time, Gabriel Batistuta, the former Argentine striker who represented both clubs during his career, called the behaviour of fans “shameful.”
This year’s Copa Libertadores final is the first that will be settled in one match. Since 1979, Copa champions were decided over two legs with both teams getting the chance to play in front of their home fans. Before that — from the tournament’s inception in 1960 — finals were contested over three matches.
This year’s edition will mirror Europe’s Champions League but many fans have complained that a one-off final will deprive them of seeing their side compete on such a grand stage.
Matters are complicated further as numerous fans have already booked their flights and hotels in anticipation of this eagerly awaited finale.
Other football fixtures have been hit because of the chaos in Chile. The Chilean football association has cancelled the national team’s home tie against Bolivia on November 15, while domestic football has been put on hold, with officials unsure when it will resume.
Since October 14, 21 Chileans have been killed with more than 5,000 detained in agitated protests against President Sebastian Pinera’s regime. The movement began as a coordinated campaign led by high school students against paying increased travel costs. Four days later, the situation escalated as protestors seized metro stations across the capital, causing damage to infrastructure and destabilizing the network.
The protests are the worst in the South American country since the fall of dictator Augusto Pinochet. NGOs Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both expressed concern over the government’s response to the protests, while solidarity marches have sprung up around the world.