Soccer is often at center of violence

The mayhem at the Indiana Pacers-Detroit Pistons game was one of the worst brawls in U.S. sports history, but confrontations involving players and fans are not uncommon elsewhere in the world and often end with far more dire consequences.

One of the most notorious acts came in 1993 with the stabbing of Monica Seles in Hamburg, Germany. Seles, ranked No. 1 at the time, was stabbed in the back on the court by an obsessed fan of Steffi Graf, a burst of violence that underlined the vulnerability of pro athletes.

Soccer has been at the center of much of the violence, often the work of roving, hardcore fans known as hooligans.

Last week, racist fans attacked Bastia's black players after a French league game against Saint-Etienne. In Peru last year, fans surged on the field and chased and beat players after a disputed call, leaving 20 people wounded, including 13 players.

A decade ago in England, Manchester United's Eric Cantona jumped kung fu-style into the crowd and kicked a Crystal Palace fan in the chest for taunting him. The Frenchman initially received a two-week jail sentence for assault, but that was changed on appeal to 120 hours of community service. Cantona was banned from playing for eight months and fined $45,000 while the fan was fined $750.

At the NBA brawl Friday night, fans and players threw punches while spectators tossed a chair and beer as chaos engulfed courtside at the arena in Auburn Hills, Mich. Four players -- Ron Artest, Jermaine O'Neal, Stephen Jackson and Ben Wallace -- were suspended indefinitely by the NBA for a fight commissioner David Stern called "shocking, repulsive and inexcusable."

The violence is hardly limited to soccer:

  • In 2002, a Canadian Football League fan attacked B.C. Lions cornerback Eric Carter during a game in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and was promptly kicked and beaten by players.

  • In 2002, 10 hooligans attacked a bus carrying a Greek basketball team. Five players and one team assistant were injured.

  • In 2003, a spectator attacked South African player Louis Koen during a Rugby World Cup game in Brisbane, Australia. Koen was not injured, but the fan was apparently knocked out when hit in the head by a kick from the player.

    Coaches and referees have been the target of violent fans.

    During an Israeli league soccer game this year, a disgruntled Bnei Yehuda fan kicked Maccabi Petach Tikvah coach Guy Luzon in the face. Luzon was shaken but not badly hurt.

    In September, Swedish soccer referee Anders Frisk was hit by an object thrown by an AS Roma fan, forcing him to abandon the European Champions League game. Dynamo Kiev was later awarded a 3-0 forfeit victory.

    On Sunday, a game turned violent in Podgorica, Serbia-Montenegro, although the players had no part in it. At least 25 people were injured when fans rioted at a stadium after a tear gas canister exploded before a first division game. The injured were treated at a hospital for tear gas inhalation, broken arms and legs and other injuries, doctors said. Two ambulances were demolished.

    Stadium tragedies have had deadly outcomes. They are often the result of panic, but many are caused by battling fans.

    The Liverpool and Juventus soccer teams were at the center of one of the worst disasters in Europe in 1985 when 39 people were killed at the European Champions Cup final in Brussels, Belgium, after a wall separating fans collapsed.

    In 2001, at least 123 people died in Accra, Ghana, in a stampede after police fired tear gas into the stands in response to fans who threw bottles and chairs on the field. Forty-three people were killed and 155 injured earlier that year in Johannesburg, South Africa, when fans tried to push into an overcrowded stadium.

    And last month, four people were killed and eight others injured during a stampede at the end of a World Cup qualifying game in Lome, Togo.