Time out

THE cooling-off period for British soccer teams is a good idea. During the time they are proscribed from playing on the European Continent -- likely from two to five years -- British officials will have time to try to find ways to end the repeated violence by a group of soccer fans, which culminated in last week's ugly riot in Brussels. British political leaders were correct in quickly repudiating the violence. Similarly, British soccer officials swiftly moved to keep all British teams from play in continental Europe for one year, a ban later extended by their European colleagues.

Soccer is the world's most popular sport by far, watched by more spectators and played by more participants than any other. It has a long and proud history. Its teams inspire the fervent loyalties of fans: Their successes sometimes seem to be among the few beacons of light visible to youths who daily confront unemployment and poverty. Yet something clearly is amiss.

Review is required of several different issues. One is the role of alcohol. Rowdyism in fans often is coupled with heavy drinking.

Then there are stadium admissions policies. How can potentially contending groups of fans be adequately segregated?

And what about the structure of the stands themselves? Many stadiums have a kind of bleachers without seats, permitting dangerous crowd surges.

In the US heavy drinking and subsequent unruliness during and after games have increased in recent years in three professional sports: hockey, baseball, and football. Obstreperous fans are beginning to drive out peaceable spectators, including families. Even victory is no assurance of nonviolence. After the Detroit Tigers won last fall's World Series, fans rioted in the streets.

Several US teams have made efforts recently to crack down on both drinking and rowdiness, but others have not. Much more ought to be done by individual teams and leagues.

A role in the review exists not only for governing authorities but also for individuals, who might rethink the way in which they show support for local teams and behave at sporting contests.

It is a serious matter that a spectacle of violence is one of the dangers of sports jingoism, in which spectators tie a community's supposed self-respect to the athletic fortunes of its affiliated team.

Soccer -- like baseball, hockey, and US football -- should be viewed essentially as a sport, an entertaining spectacle played on a field by skilled players. And played free of the cacophony of fan violence. ----30----

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