A solution to hooliganism? Make it a spectator sport
A Russian politician has proposed the move ahead of the 2018 World Cup next summer
A Russian fan smashes a chair over an England supporter as another attacks him on the ground in Marseille during Euro 2016. Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images
A Russian politician has proposed an unorthodox solution to the country’s problems with football hooliganism before hosting the World Cup next year – legalise it and make it a spectator sport.
Organised groups of Russian fans fought English supporters on the streets of Marseille during the European Championship last year.
That inspired Igor Lebedev, who sits in the Russian parliament, to draw up rules for what he calls “draka” – the Russian word for ‘fight’ – with 20 unarmed fighters on each side in an arena.
In a statement on the website of the nationalist LDPR party, Lebedev said organised brawls “could turn fans’ aggression in a peaceful direction”. He also claimed it would serve as an “example” for English fans, who he characterised as undisciplined louts and poor fighters.
“Russia would be a pioneer in a new sport,” said Lebedev, who also suggested fights between different fan groups could draw crowds of thousands. “English fans arrive, for example, and start picking fights. And they get the answer – challenge accepted. A meeting in a stadium at a set time.”
Some fan groups in Russia already hold illicit fights along similar lines, typically pre-arranged mass brawls in rural locations, away from police.
It is not the first time Lebedev has courted controversy with his views on hooligans. He hailed the violence in Marseille last year, telling Russian fans: “Well done lads, keep it up!”
In addition to his parliamentary duties as deputy speaker, Lebedev is also on the board of the Russian Football Union. He is a longtime associate of fan leader Alexander Shprygin, who was deported from France last year following the Marseille violence.
Despite his enthusiasm for football-related violence, Lebedev insisted Russian policing meant foreign fans would not be in danger at the World Cup.
“We’ve taken all the safety measures, modernised legislation. Not a single tourist has any reason to fear travelling to our country in the summer of 2018.”