Fan­ning the flames

As hooli­gan­ism rears its ugly head, French of­fi­cials are ac­cused of in­ep­ti­tude

CityPress - - Sport - PETER AUF DER HEYDE sports@city­

The last time France hosted a ma­jor foot­ball tour­na­ment, Ger­man hooli­gans in­jured a po­lice­man so badly that he was in a coma for six weeks and has not been able to work since then. He re­mains permanently dis­abled.

That was in 1998. Since then, the hooli­gan­ism prob­lem has – by and large – van­ished and sub­se­quent tour­na­ments were not tar­nished by nu­mer­ous in­ci­dents in­volv­ing foot­ball hooli­gans.

That is, un­til Euro 2016 in France, when foot­ball hooli­gan­ism again reared its ugly head.

Rus­sian and English hooli­gans kicked off pro­ceed­ings – so to speak – on the sec­ond day of the com­pe­ti­tion last Satur­day, when they were in­volved in vi­o­lent con­fronta­tions around the Group B match be­tween the two sides in Mar­seille.

Since then, there have been fur­ther clashes in­volv­ing hooli­gans from those two coun­tries, with Ger­mans also be­com­ing in­volved.

Europe’s gov­ern­ing foot­ball body Uefa has been quick to re­spond, threat­en­ing to throw Eng­land out of the com­pe­ti­tion. They went a step fur­ther with Rus­sia, dis­qual­i­fy­ing the team but sus­pend­ing the penalty, thereby giv­ing the 2018 World Cup hosts a last chance.

The fight­ing will not have gone un­no­ticed by foot­ball’s world gov­ern­ing body Fifa, which must be look­ing to­wards the next World Cup with some con­cern. As­ton­ish­ingly, the deputy chair­per­son of the Rus­sian par­lia­ment, Igor Lebe­dev, came out in sup­port of the fight­ing fans.

“I don’t un­der­stand those politi­cians and of­fi­cials who are crit­i­cis­ing our fans. We should de­fend them, and then we can sort it out when they come home,” he said.

It was only when talk of the World Cup be­ing taken away emerged that the Rus­sian sports min­is­ter, Vi­taly Mutko, slammed the hooli­gans.

For host coun­try France, the in­ci­dents of hooli­gan­ism have added even more pres­sure – pres­sure that some hooli­gan ex­perts, as well as hooli­gans them­selves, say French au­thor­i­ties are not able to han­dle. Fol­low­ing the deadly ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Paris last year, se­cu­rity of­fi­cials through­out France are al­ready on high alert, but the rise in hooli­gan­ism has meant that of­fi­cials have had to shift some of their at­ten­tion from a ter­ror­ist threat to that of fight­ing fans.

Ac­cord­ing to Ger­man of­fi­cials, they of­fered to help their French coun­ter­parts ahead of the tour­na­ment, as they know who the Ger­man trou­ble­mak­ers are. Their of­fers were turned down, they say.

Hooli­gan ex­pert and aca­demic Ge­off Pear­son, who lec­tures in law at Manch­ester Uni­ver­sity, is in France to study fans’ be­hav­iour dur­ing the Eu­ros. He is one of many who has been crit­i­cal of the re­sponse from French se­cu­rity of­fi­cials.

“They seemed un­able to do any­thing against a group of about 150 Rus­sian hooli­gans who were run­ning through the streets of Mar­seille and at­tack­ing English fans. The po­lice then started shoot­ing tear gas. It seems they were do­ing this ran­domly at all foot­ball fans, and this re­sulted in an es­ca­la­tion of the prob­lem.

“There is no sug­ges­tion the French po­lice are go­ing to change ei­ther their in­ept strat­egy or their tac­tics, which were shown up by the Rus­sian group, who out­fought and out­ma­noeu­vred them on match day.”

The vi­o­lence in Mar­seille and other French cities has seen a new as­pect be­ing in­tro­duced to foot­ball hooli­gan­ism: The use of so­cial me­dia.

Like the ter­ror or­gan­i­sa­tion Is­lamic State, which was be­hind the at­tacks in Paris last year, vi­o­lent fans are us­ing so­cial me­dia to spread fear.

A Rus­sian hooli­gan even went so far as to strap a cam­era to his body as he went on the ram­page be­fore post­ing the video on YouTube, where it has been watched half a mil­lion times.

Rus­sian hooli­gans are open about the fact that they came to France not to en­joy the foot­ball but to par­take in vi­o­lence with – and against – hooli­gans from other coun­tries.

“We want to fight and it helps us that the po­lice make it so easy for us.”


NABBED week Rus­sian sup­port­ers are de­tained by po­lice in Lille, France, this


IN­JURED An Eng­land fan is ar­rested af­ter clash­ing with po­lice ahead of the game against Rus­sia


RIOT Eng­land fans gather amid clashes with po­lice ahead of the game against Rus­sia in Mar­seille, France


FORTH­RIGHT Rus­sian Sports Min­is­ter Vi­taly Mutko has slammed soccer hooli­gans

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