Mon, Jul 11, 2016 - Page 12 News List

Russian violence at Euros casts pall on World Cup

AFP, MOSCOW

Russia’s players failed to leave a mark on Euro 2016, but brutal violence by hardcore hooligans in France sparked fears about the soccer World Cup that Russia is to host in two years.

Images of Russians in organized groups in Marseille, France, and Russian far-right soccer fan chief Alexander Shprygin taunting French authorities on Twitter before being expelled shocked many in Europe.

As the European Championship ends, security experts are turning warily to the 2018 World Cup, even though it is a prestige project for Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose government has insisted that no off-the-field disorder will mar the event.

“We will do everything to make sure that the teams and the supporters feel good and secure,” Minister of Sport Vitaly Mutko, who also heads Russia’s soccer association, told journalists on Tuesday last week.

Putin on Monday last week signed off on a law that tightens controls at games and would see the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs publish online a blacklist of supporters banned from matches.

The president also set up a centralized headquarters for security at the World Cup under the control of the Russian Federal Security Service.

World soccer body FIFA has sought to give backing to Russia’s organization of the event.

“The 2018 World Cup will be a great treat for every visitor who comes to Russia,” FIFA secretary-general Fatma Samoura recently told a news conference in Moscow.

Samoura said that all sides had “observed France” and lessons from the tournament there would be taken on board to make sure fans in Russia “enjoy a great football festival in a safe environment.”

However, critics say Russian authorities have consistently failed to take issues such as hooliganism and racism that plague their game seriously — with some at the top appearing to play down or even condone brutality by their fans.

France jailed three Russians and deported more than 20 after prosecutors said hardcore hooligans went on a “hunt” for England supporters in Marseille.

The clashes left 35 people injured, with two England fans in a coma. Russia was formally warned by UEFA that it would be thrown out of Euro 2016 after its fans went on a rampage in the stadium after their opening game.

However, the reaction from Russian authorities was muted, and when condemnation did come it was often grudging.

Instead, most Russian officials blamed the French police and English fans, rather than their own supporters, for the violence.

Putin was met by cheers and applause at a conference packed with high-ranking officials when he mischievously said he could not understand how “how 200 of our fans could beat up several thousand English.”

Moscow now seems keen to see the brutal scenes of violence in France forgotten, as it seeks to avoid worries overshadowing the buildup to the World Cup.

Even Shprygin has started playing nice.

“English, French, Polish, all should come to Russia,” Shprygin, who has been linked with far-right groups, told the media after returning to Russia. “We want to show that we can be a welcoming country and for sure that we are normal people.”

Commentators in the country say Russian police in general adopt a far tougher — and for many, more effective — approach to stifling violence than counterparts in France.

At domestic games, officers deploy heavily and form human tunnels to keep opposing sides apart and make short shrift of any one who gets out of line.

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