Violence, like racism, is a collective problem in football
Euro 2016 must rise above the violent scenes in Marseille and Nice so that real football fans can enjoy the spectacle.
The scenes that unfolded in the Stade Vélodrome during the Euro 2016 match between Russia and England, and in the streets of the port area of Marseille in the days leading up to the game, have tarnished the tournament and those involved have been rightly tarred with several shades of abasement. Hooliganism is a blight on football, an inglorious stain that manifests itself in reactions to the colour of a player’s skin or the red of blood flowing on the streets of Marseille.
English fans have a reputation that precedes them to every tournament. Despite the best efforts of the security forces on both sides of the channel, there will always be an unsavoury element that slips through. They are not the majority. Those that travel to a football match seeking violence will inevitably find it. But it takes two to tango, otherwise England fans singing incendiary songs, stripped to the waist, pink in hue and squaring up to the French police, are nothing more than they appear: a bunch of louts howling at the moon.
Reports of the goading of local youths and a gang of black-clad Russian hooligans roaming the port area looking for trouble paint a less-than edifying picture of the inaction of the security forces. None of the players come out of the violence in Marseille whiter than white.
Journalists and eye-witnesses in the stadium reported that violence erupted in the stands when Russian supporters set off flares, then scaled the barrier separating supporters and attacked opposing fans, most of whom made it their sole business to try and flee. How - with France on a state of high alert due to the very real threat of a terror attack during the Euros – were Russian fans able to carry explosive devices into the stadium? Witnesses reported a complete lack of police presence in the ground, while the orange-bibbed private security personnel on hand were understandably keen not to intervene.
In the aftermath of the trouble in the Stade Vélodrome, the Russian FA assumed responsibility and said it expected a fine. Unlike England supporters in the stadium, their English counterpart will not be charged.
One of the Uefa chits in the file against Russia will deal with the racist behaviour of Russia fans inside the Stade Vélodrome. The spectre of intolerance still hangs heavily over football stadiums across the continent but is notable by its absence in English grounds as is, for the most part, violence associated with the game. The FA has gone to great lengths to clean up football on its own shores, particularly in terms of racism, an issue numerous other national associations have failed miserably to address. Racism is rife in stadia across the continent from Spain to Ukraine and World Cup 2018 host Russia is scarcely a shining example. Let he who is without sin cast the first banana on to the pitch. Northern Ireland and Poland supporters in Nice -- with the apparent aid of some French ultras -- have shown that hooliganism is far from an exclusive English export.
Hooliganism - like economic meltdowns caused by lackadaisical financial regulation - will rear its ugly head as long as humanity exists. As with the recession still gripping many countries in southern Europe, it’s a case of the few screwing everything up for the many. The only sure-fire solution is to play international tournaments behind closed doors but that would be akin to bowing to terrorism, or banning yellow fruit.
Hooliganism represents a terror of its own to innocent bystanders but broadly speaking, those invested in the lust for violence mete it out on their ilk, based on the colour of an overpriced replica shirt. The European Championship must rise above the scenes in Marseille and Nice, so that true football fans can enjoy the spectacle. It is the task of the French security forces to take care of the rest.
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