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Hooligans escort Argentina to World Cup: Who’s paying?

Argentinian football authorities deny any ties, but the presence in South Africa of known hooligans of the country’s clubs has led to questions on who is financing their trips.

sports Updated: Jun 03, 2010 01:01 IST

Argentinian football authorities deny any ties, but the presence in South Africa of known hooligans of the country’s clubs has led to questions on who is financing their trips.
“There is no tie to speak of, and we did not pay any airplane tickets for anybody,” Argentina spokesman Andres Ventura insisted.

“We hope this is cleared up,” he added while requesting the courts investigate any allegations.
Close to 30 hooligans of various teams travelled to South Africa Friday in the same plane as Argentina’s national team.

“I never had anything to do with them. It would be very stupid to send them in the same flight as the national team,” argued Argentina Football Association (AFA) president Julio Grondona, who is also an influential vice president of FIFA. The AFA argues that it was all a coincidence: Argentina cancelled a planned charter flight to South Africa and travelled in a regular flight instead.

“The national team was going to play in Dubai, and when that was cancelled we had to get tickets in another flight. The fans probably already had their tickets and we invaded that plane,” Ventura said.

But many in Argentina are not convinced: there is a major scandal in the South American country over how these violent fans are getting the cash they need for the lengthy trip.

Beyond those 30 or so hooligans who travelled with the team, others travelled over the weekend.
A further 250 who belong to the organisation United Argentine Fans (HUA), led by ruling-party political activist Marcelo Mallo, are expected to arrive in South Africa in the coming days. And sources close to the country’s football clubs told the German Press Agency (DPA) that no less than 1,000 hooligans were to support the national team in South Africa.

According to Argentinian media reports, the group who travelled to South Africa with the national team have ties with team manager Carlos Bilardo and have been Argentina’s main supporters since Diego Maradona became coach in late 2008.

“It’s a lie that we are financed by the government. Or by the AFA. We have a direct deal with Maradona and Bilardo,” Boca hooligan Ramon Ortiz was quoted as saying by the Argentinian Sports daily Ole on Tuesday.