The European Championships in France have gotten off to a glittering start... at least on the football pitch. However, there have been numerous reports of coordinated violence between supporters inside and outside French stadiums in the opening days of the competition, most notably clashes between Russian and English football fans in Marseille.
The most notable incident occurred at the end of England and Russia’s 1-1 draw at Stade Vélodrome, Olympique Marseille’s home stadium. Just before the final whistle, a firework was set off inside the stadium, which was apparently a signal for a group of Russian supporters to rush the England section of the stadium. Eyewitness accounts and reports on social media suggested the attack was unprovoked, and that some of the Russian attackers were wearing gum shields and MMA gloves. Earlier in the day, there were numerous clashes between Russian and English fans throughout Marseille that led to numerous injuries.
Now, UEFA has come out with a strongly-worded statement, expressing “disgust" at the incidents, and suggesting that both England and Russia could be expelled from the tournament if fan violence continues.
The UEFA Executive Committee would like to express its disgust at the violent clashes which occurred in the city of Marseille.
Such unacceptable behaviour by so-called supporters of the national teams of England and Russia has no place in football, a sport we must protect and defend.
The UEFA Executive Committee has warned both football associations that – irrespective of any decisions taken by the independent disciplinary bodies relating to incidents inside the stadium – it will not hesitate to impose additional sanctions on the Football Association (FA) and the Russian Football Union (RFS), including the potential disqualification of their respective teams from the tournament, should such violence occur again.
We urge both the FA and the RFS to appeal to their supporters to behave in a responsible and respectful manner.
UEFA also opened disciplinary proceedings against the Russian federation for Russian fan actions inside the Stade Velodrome. No formal charges have been levied against the English FA.
English fans are most certainly not exempt from criticism for how they behaved themselves, especially in the clashes between supporters outside the stadium and throughout Marseille. However, UEFA’s warning that England could be expelled for these incidents rings hollow, especially considering the coordinated attack by Russian thugs against an entire section of English supporters inside the stadium that included families with children.
There’s also plenty of blame to go around here: French security in and around the Stade Velodrome was apparently extremely lax which made it much easier for Russian hooligans to get inside the stadium and to attack English fans. UEFA also should shoulder some of the responsibility for hosting this match in particular in Marseille, the site of previous violence by English supporters in the 1998 World Cup. It seems as though this entire situation was a tinderbox that might have been, if not avoided, at least mitigated somewhat with a change of venue, a recognition of the history of football hooliganism in these two countries, and increased match day security.
Moreover, with Russian fans heavily involved in coordinated violent attacks, one wonders if this is just a taste of what visiting fans can expect when they travel to various locations in Russia for the 2018 World Cup. It’s a sobering thought.
Violence is bad and dumb, and I understand that punishing the national teams of the countries who are engaged in violence is one of the only real ways to combat it in the footballing world. It would, however, be a shame if either country were sent home for the actions of the worst of its supporters, when UEFA itself could have done more to help avoid the situation in the first place.