- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 4, 2014

SAO PAULO (AP) - Brazilian players are preparing to go on strike and halt the country’s leading championship this weekend to demand more security after an attack by fans of a top club.

Players said Tuesday they don’t intend to play in the Sao Paulo state championship after Corinthians players were attacked on Saturday at the team’s training center by about 100 fans upset with poor results.

In a statement, Corinthians players said the strike is supported by the “Common Sense” players’ movement, which is seeking to improve Brazilian football, and by a union that is gathering support from players at the championship’s other 19 clubs.

Saturday’s attack was the latest incident to tarnish the image of Brazilian football just a few months before the World Cup.

There are ongoing problems with the country’s preparations for the sport’s showcase event, with host city Curitiba still in danger of being dropped. There’s also uncertainty over the start of this year’s Brazilian national league because of ongoing lawsuits against a sports tribunal decision that altered the tournament’s result last year.

On top of that, outbreaks of fan violence plagued Brazilian stadiums throughout last year and raised safety concerns ahead of the World Cup.

The problems meant that Saturday’s events were only the latest to hit the headlines.

Nearly 100 fans cut through a wire mesh fence to invade Corinthians’ training ground, where Iran’s national squad will be based during the World Cup in June. They attacked team employees and grabbed Peruvian striker Paolo Guerrero by his neck, forcing other players to flee to a locker room and barricade themselves in until police arrived.

“We are fed up with these unpunished acts of violence in football,” Corinthian players said in the statement. “The grotesque scenes of violence this weekend indicate that an unprecedented tragedy is about to occur at the work place of professional clubs across Brazil. We will not accept that. We need to put a stop to this by creating a task force that can offer proper security to professional players and the righteous fans.”

The players said the lack of punishment by public authorities is one of the main causes of fan violence. Nobody was immediately arrested after Saturday’s attack in Sao Paulo.

Brazil Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo lamented the attack and called for all those involved to be punished, but quickly added that the “episode had no connection” to the World Cup.

“It was an act against a club,” he said.

Corinthians players didn’t want to face Ponte Preta on Sunday but said they did so because of the club’s commitment to sponsors and television rights’ holders. They said they regretted the decision, however, because “our lives and our safety are worth more than any contract or political or financial interest.”

“We admit that we have failed,” the players said. “But we failed even more by playing last weekend, because we could have put an end to this situation by attracting the attention of the entire country, authorities, clubs and tournament organizers to a tragedy that is about to happen if nothing is done to end violence in football at all levels.”

Corinthians, Brazil’s second most popular club behind Flamengo, has lost three matches in a row in the state championship, including a 5-1 defeat to rival Santos. The team won FIFA’s Club World Cup in 2012 thanks to a goal by Guerrero in the final against Chelsea.

Mid-week matches are expected to go ahead as scheduled because strike details are still being organized by the players.


Tales Azzoni on Twitter: https://twitter.com/tazzoni

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