Football: Russia on Notice for Euro 2016 Over Hooligans
Warsaw. Russia’s Euro 2016 campaign could be over before it even begins, after UEFA threatened to deduct six points from the country’s qualifying campaign in the event of further serious crowd trouble involving its fans.
European football’s governing body issued the warning with a 120,000-euro ($150,000, 96,000-pound) fine, came after Russian fans lit and threw fireworks during the side’s 4-1 win over the Czech Republic in Wroclaw, southwest Poland, last Friday.
Potentially inflammatory “Russian Empire” banners — provocative in parts of eastern Europe that were once under Moscow’s thumb — were also seen, while four volunteer stadium stewards were beaten up and had to receive hospital treatment.
The suspended sanction effectively means Russia’s attempts to reach France in four years’ time could be for nothing, just as the team was beginning to win plaudits for attractive, free-flowing play after years in the footballing wilderness.
UEFA’s move comes amid concern in Euro 2012 co-hosts Poland and Ukraine not just about Russian fans but also after repeated calls from the body’s president Michel Platini to stamp out a range of problems threatening the future of the game.
“Violence, match-fixing, illegal betting, doping, pressure and threats against players, non-respect of contracts, traffic of young players, money laundering: these problems exist, and worse than that they seem to be taking root and becoming commonplace,” he told UEFA’s last annual congress in Istanbul, Turkey, in March.
“Let’s bring morals back onto the football pitch,” he told delegates.
Euro 2012 is taking place under the shadow of at least three of these issues, with the Italy team arriving for the tournament in Poland and Ukraine after fresh allegations of match-fixing and illegal betting in the domestic leagues.
Platini warned in Warsaw just days before Euro 2012 started that the career of any player found guilty of throwing matches would be over and he reiterated the organization’s “zero tolerance” policy on racism.
Poland’s team on Wednesday handed out information for UEFA’s “Respect” campaign to some 4,000 people at Warsaw’s Polonia stadium, amid claims that some fans, including from Russia, have racially abused players at the competition.
“It is a timely and important gesture,” Rafal Pankowski of Polish-based group Never Again, part of the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) network, told AFP after claims of far-right activity at stadiums in both host nations made waves.
Question marks about whether UEFA is willing to follow through with harsh punishment on racist fans remain.
But with hooliganism, they may have come up with a hard-hitting solution to what has arguably become a more complex problem, with football-related violence — so long seen as a largely “English disease” — shifting east.
In eastern Europe and former Soviet satellite states, hooliganism has been linked to the rise in nationalism across the continent, exploiting old enmities — sporting or otherwise — or simmering tensions along ethnic lines, experts say.
The fighting on Warsaw’s streets, which left 20 injured, including 10 police officers and saw more than 180 arrests, came against a backdrop of centuries-old tensions and a turbulent shared past and more recent history.
Russian football chief Sergei Fursenko said they will launch an appeal against the sanction but admitted that they would be bound to accept the points punishment if there was further trouble.
“It’s a very disappointing situation when the team has to be responsible for its fans’ unruly behavior,” Fursenko added.