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We assess that the Copa America football tournament in the US will very likely pass off peacefully

This assessment was issued to clients of Dragonfly’s Security Intelligence & Analysis Service (SIAS) on 18 June 2024.

  • US officials have not issued any public warnings of threats to the tournament, and we have not seen any signs of hostility in our monitoring of extremist channels online
  • Any incidents of violent and disorderly conduct by hooligans will probably be isolated at matches over the coming month

There are likely to be sporadic incidents of violent and disorderly conduct by football hooligans in the US over the next month. The Copa America football tournament will be held across 14 cities from 20 June to 14 July. The US authorities have not publicly warned of any specific threats to the tournament. But officials seem concerned about violent conduct by hooligans. Petty theft will probably be the main day-to-day risk to people staying in city centres of host cities or who attend matches or public screenings of them.

Major security incidents unlikely

We assess that major security incidents affecting the Copa America tournament are highly unlikely. Neither federal agencies nor local police forces in host cities have warned about any active threats to the tournament. Officials have said that there will be a visible law enforcement presence at games. Precedent from major sporting events held in the US in recent years suggests that federal authorities and local police forces will closely coordinate resources and intelligence to ensure the safety and security of attendees.

The local authorities appear highly capable of securing the event. Cities such as Atlanta, Houston, Miami, and Las Vegas, host major commercial, sporting and cultural events annually. According to the websites of the various stadiums scheduled to host matches, routine security measures such as bag checks and attendee scanning will be in place in and out of ticketed areas. There have also been no major safety and security incidents during domestic and international sporting events in the US in recent years.

The potential for major security incidents is likely to be heightened at public events such as screenings. For example, one person was killed and 23 were wounded in a mass shooting during the Super Bowl LVIII victory parade for the Kansas City Chiefs on 14 February 2024 – although officials have since concluded that this incident was the result of a dispute between attendees rather than an attack against the rally itself. Unlike at official events or matches, it is very difficult for the authorities to secure events that are open to the general public. Based on precedent from instances of mass violence in the past year, such incidents would most likely be shootings or stabbings.

Hooliganism likely to drive disorderly conduct

Any incidents of violence at Copa America matches would probably involve disorderly and violent conduct by hooligans, in our assessment. Officials appear concerned about this. In May, the government of Argentina shared with the US government a list of ‘violent individuals’ to be prevented from entering the country and attending matches. Based on precedent from international football matches held in the US in recent years, any cases of violence would most likely consist of fighting between rival supporters and also extreme verbal harassment, particularly outside stadiums or at public events in city centres.

Violent hooliganism appears to be generally an issue in domestic competitions, particularly within South American countries such as Argentina and Brazil. But major instances of hooliganism causing a match to stop or an extended pause in play is very rare at international competitions such as the Copa America. Most recently, a 2023 World Cup qualifying match between Argentina and Brazil in Rio de Janeiro was delayed by 30 minutes after rival supporters brawled with one another and security officers in the stadium. This did not spill out into the city, however.

At this edition of the Copa America, a match played between Argentina and Brazil, and the US and Mexico would probably be the main flashpoints for such violence. But whether these teams play against one another depends on how the tournament progresses. Based on the seeding structure for the knockout phase, US vs Mexico would be a quarterfinal match at the earliest (between 4-6 July), and Argentina vs Brazil would be the final (on 14 July). In any case, incidents of violence would very likely be contained quickly by the authorities.

Petty theft likely to be main risk at public events in major cities

Several thousands of people will probably gather in host cities for public events over the coming month. There will be one official ‘fan zone’ in Miami, Florida, at the Wynwood Marketplace, according to the Copa America website. Otherwise, most of the events that we have seen shared on social media involve public screenings in parks and bars in major cities. Based on precedent from the World Cup in 2022 and 2018, these events will probably draw particularly large crowds on days when the US team is scheduled to play. This will at least include 23 June, 27 June, and 1 July.

Petty theft, such as pickpocketing and muggings, will probably be the main day-to-day risk to attendees at public screenings of matches in major cities. The latest police data available for major cities (such as Houston and Miami) indicate that petty thefts are the most frequently perpetrated crimes, particularly in city centres. Based on press reports of incidents of petty theft that have occurred in major cities over the month, most incidents generally occur between 2000hrs and 0500hrs and criminals tend to target individuals who are alone or who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Protest activity unlikely to impact Copa America

We have not seen information to suggest that any organisations or movements are planning to hold disruptive protests around Copa America 2024 events. Still, there is some precedent for environmental activists targeting high-profile sporting events; activists part of Extinction Rebellion, for example, glued their feet to the floor during the US Open tennis tournament in September 2023. The level of publicity around the Copa America is likely to make the tournament a target for environmental and pro-Palestine activists.

There is a more than even chance for protest stunts involving a few fans holding flags or storming the pitch. This is particularly the case in support of Palestine. There have already been such incidents at football games recently; on 25 May, protesters holding Palestinian flags ran onto the pitch at the women’s UEFA Champions League Final in London. We assess that protest stunts or pitch invasions are most likely to occur during fixtures involving the US, given that pro-Palestine activists have been very critical of the US governments’ support for Israel.

Seasonal climatic risks

The host cities of Houston, Texas and Miami, Florida will be particularly exposed to hurricanes over the duration of the tournament and beyond. The Atlantic hurricane season runs from 1 June to 30 November, and generally impacts the US east coast and the Gulf of Mexico. The US NOAA has forecast an ‘above-normal’ season with 17 to 25 storms, including four to seven major hurricanes. There are no current warnings of active hurricanes. Based on precedent from recent hurricane seasons, it is also probable that inland cities such as Atlanta and Orlando would experience severe flooding and extreme winds in the event of a hurricane.

In the event a strong hurricane is forecast to impact one of these cities, this would probably prompt evacuations. We assess that options for evacuation by air or road would rapidly narrow in the days before and after a hurricane. And the availability of flight tickets would probably be very limited, due to a surge in demand. Flight prices also tend to rise significantly under such circumstances, based on press reports of this during hurricane season last year.

Image: Argentina’s coach Lionel Scaloni presents the Copa America trophy onstage during the final draw for the Conmebol Copa America 2024 football competition at the James L. Knight Centre in Miami, Florida, on 7 December 2023. (Photo by Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images.