SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile passed a new law on Tuesday to crack down on violence and racism at soccer matches ahead of the Copa America tournament which kicks off on Thursday.
Chile wants to prevent the notorious South American 'barra brava' hooligans marring games and said it will have zero tolerance for discrimination and racism, with tougher fines and jail sentences for those who cross the line.
Twelve national teams from across the region play in Chile between June 11 and July 4 in the Copa America, the world's oldest continental soccer tournament.
"With this new law we're not only going to sanction those that deviate from the soccer community and spoil the sport, but also guarantee that fans and families can enjoy the game safely and in pleasant conditions," said the government's acting Vice-President Jorge Burgos.
The tougher sanctions can be applied to fans and soccer clubs alike.
Games featuring South American teams are renowned for their color and noise, creating an atmosphere that can make European matches seem dour by comparison. Some elements of that atmosphere can undermine security and controls are being tightened, the head of the Chilean government's 'Safe Stadium Plan' told Reuters in March.
Racism is also a serious issue, with authorities in Chile, Peru, Brazil and Argentina among those trying to crack down on discrimination.
"I'm certain that collaboration between the different police forces on the continent will allow us to make this Copa America a real celebration of our America," said Burgos.
(Reporting by Anthony Esposito and Antonio de la Jara; Editing by Andrew Hay)