So who's to blame for the trouble in Marseille before, during and after Saturday's Euro 2016 match between England and Russia at the Stade Velodrome? Where do we begin?
hooligans descended upon the Vieux Port, some seeking out North Africans and looking for a fight. Marseille and Paris St. Germain ultras were ready and saw the English fans as east targets. Russian
thugs numbering about 300 and wearing scarves came ready to brawl with fighting equipment, martial arts gloves and mouth guards.
But what about the authorities? Who could have not
anticipated that there might be trouble in Marseille. The worst trouble at the 1998 World Cup France organized came when English fans battled Tunisian fans in Marseille. Following the Euro 2016 draw
in December, the England-Russia game was identified as a high-risk game, but unlike England-Wales, which will be played Thursday in Lens, a city-wide ban on alcohol was not imposed. English fans
blamed the heavy-handed French police for making a bad situation worse. And stadium security failed to segregate Russian and English fans and allowed Russian fans to sneak flares into the game.
UEFA -- whose president Michel Platini
was banned from soccer and general secretary Gianni Infantino
now FIFA president -- opened a disciplinary case against Russia for the
trouble by Russian fans after the final whistle at the Stade Velodrome and warned both England and Russia they could be thrown out of Euro 2016 if the violence continues. It labeled the situation
French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve
has authorized each venue to take measures to prohibit the sale, consumption and transport of alcohol on match
days and the day before in areas around stadiums and fan zones.
English hooliganism dates back more than 40 years to the early 1970s, but it has been a relatively minor issue at home in
recent years. What is new is the rise of right-wing Russian gangs. At Euro 2012, UEFA fined the Russian federation after fans racially insulted Czech Republic defender Theodor Gebre Selassie
who is black, and battled with local fans.
Did the fines have any effect on how the Russian federation viewed the behavior of fans? Igor Lebedev,
a member of the
Russian federation's executive committee and member of the Russian parliament, said their behavior in France was "normal" and encouraged them to keep fighting.
“I don’t see
anything wrong with the fans fighting,” he wrote on Twitter. “Quite the opposite, well done, lads, keep it up!”
Lebedev, instead blamed the French police.
“I don’t understand those politicians and officials who are criticizing our fans," Lebedev added. "We should defend them, and then we can sort it out when they come home. What happened in
Marseille and in other French towns is not the fault of fans, but about the inability of police to organize this kind of event properly.”
Even Russian sports minister Vitaly
, a member of FIFA's executive council, pushed back, saying the trouble in Marseille had been "exaggerated" and added there had been "no clash."
The remarks of Lebedev and Mutko
are troubling and raise questions about what kind of treatment visiting fans might receive in two years at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Hopefully, FIFA should also view these remarks as
troubling and avoid being caught napping as UEFA seemingly has been.