hooliganism

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Three seriously injured, 120 detained in Bruges hooligan riot

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BRUSSELS (AP) Authorities are investigating a hooligan riot which seriously injured three people and forced Brugge police to detain 120 following the match between Club Brugge and Antwerp.

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Local police chief Dirk Van Nuffel says one policeman was among the seriously wounded as authorities sought to contain a brawl between Belgian fans reinforced by others who had come from the Netherlands.

By Monday morning all were released but investigators were still seeking to see who was at the core of the fighting. Van Nuffel says such hooligan fighting “hadn’t been seen for years.”

Russia readies tough security measures for Confed Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) Terrorists, hooligans and anti-corruption protesters. Those are the main concerns for the Russian security forces ahead of the Confederations Cup.

A week which began with at least 1,750 people reported arrested in protests across the country on Monday will end with the first games of the World Cup’s main warm-up event. Russia is under pressure to showcase a safe host nation, but is facing numerous challenges.

Stadiums will have airport-style security, but there have been teething troubles. In a notable setback, a Russian league game last month was used to test Confederations Cup security, but instead stood out for the many fireworks smuggled in by fans.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has imposed a package of security measures, but faces criticism from observers who say his order could hamper ordinary Russians’ lives and stifle dissent.

The measures are based on the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, which had a single host city and sports facilities far from inhabited areas. The June 17-July 2 Confederations Cup has four host cities and next year’s World Cup will have 11.

“Sochi was easier,” argues Russian author Andrei Soldatov, an expert on the security services. “Now we’re talking about many cities. It’s an unusual and dangerous situation.”

Russian officials say the tournament is safe.

“No direct threats against participants or guests” have been uncovered, the senior Federal Security Service official in charge of tournament security, Alexei Lavrishchev, said last week. As for security measures, “law-abiding citizens have nothing to worry about.”

TERRORISM

For years, Russia’s security services focused heavily on Islamist groups from the restive North Caucasus, where Russian forces fought two wars in the 1990s and early 2000s.

A bombing on the St. Petersburg subway April 3 killed 14 and ended a three-year run for Russia without a major attack outside the North Caucasus region. The alleged attacker, however, came from Central Asia and had no apparent links to Caucasus groups. That indicates “the emergence of new players,” Soldatov says. “I’m not totally convinced that Russian law enforcement is ready to deal with this new kind of threat.”

Russia’s major train and subway stations are equipped with metal detectors as standard, but often only a few travelers are examined in detail, and sometimes the equipment is switched off altogether. Procedures have been tightened in the St. Petersburg subway following April’s bombing, and ahead of the tournament, but many Moscow subway stations seem largely unchanged.

Airport security is tight following bombings of two planes in 2004 and a Moscow airport in 2011. By law, passengers and baggage are scanned on entry to the terminal.

Racial profiling is common for Russian law enforcement in major cities, with people of Asian appearance routinely pulled over for document checks in subway stations. Foreign fans wearing team colors are less likely to be approached.

HOOLIGANISM

It’s been a year since Russian fans fought running battles with England supporters at the European Championship in France, and Russia is keen to avoid a repeat.

A repeat seems unlikely, given that few foreign fans are expected at the Confederations Cup and Russia has no rivalry with its group stage opponents New Zealand, Portugal and Mexico.

As they prepare for the World Cup, Russian authorities have compiled a blacklist of 191 fans banned from attending games. To attend a game, a ticket isn’t enough – you’ll need a “Fan ID” issued only after your personal information has been examined by Russian authorities.

There will be a heavy police presence, particularly at stadiums, and restricted alcohol sales nearby.

In a trial of security measures for the tournament, thousands of police staffed a May 17 game between Russian Premier League champion Spartak Moscow and Terek Grozny at Moscow’s Confederations Cup venue.

Police staffed security checkpoints around the stadium, examining bags, patting down fans and checking banners for offensive content. Colleagues in riot gear and on horseback, plus truncheon-wielding National Guard units, lined nearby roads.

The searches didn’t stop Spartak’s fans smuggling in dozens of banned flares and fireworks, as well as shipping flares, which can be used as weapons. At one point, there was so much smoke from pyrotechnics that the game was suspended for several minutes.

PROTESTS

Getting official permission to host a protest in Russia is never easy, and the Confederations Cup makes it even harder.

Putin’s decree means the police must approve any public gatherings in or near host cities. Holding an unapproved event puts organizers and participants at risk of arrest. Monday’s protests were a mix of officially sanctioned and unsanctioned events in different cities, and no major opposition events are planned for the upcoming weeks.

The decree also stipulates foreign visitors must register with the authorities within 24 hours on arrival in a new city, while Russians have three days. Hotels will register guests, but those using room-rental services like Airbnb face more difficulties.

“This decree needs to be seen as proclaiming a state of emergency in a certain part of the country for a period of time,” said Russian human rights activist Pavel Chikov, who filed an unsuccessful Supreme Court appeal against a similar decree at the 2014 Olympics. “The main constitutional rights don’t apply, or they apply with certain limitations.”

Still, authorities may be reluctant to apply the law to the letter to avoid bad publicity, and mass arrests are unlikely. “There will be some kind of freedom,” Chikov says.

NEXT YEAR

The Confederations Cup venues are comparatively straightforward to protect – Sochi’s Fisht stadium is in the heavily-guarded Olympic Park, far from the city center, while St. Petersburg’s stadium is on an otherwise largely-deserted island. The arenas in Moscow and Kazan are in more central locations.

The World Cup will be trickier.

Many of the 12 stadiums for next year’s tournament are in provincial locations with little experience of foreign crowds.

Those include Volgograd, targeted by three bombings in 2013. Nearby cities like Astrakhan, Grozny and Pyatigorsk have also been targeted in recent years – they won’t host World Cup games, but they will contain teams’ training bases.

Hooligans an asset, liability for Russian government

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MARSEILLE, France (AP) The Russian soccer hooligans who have fought with rival supporters at the European Championship in France have at various times been both an asset and a liability to the Russian authorities.

While the often-nationalist hardcore fans provide a reserve of support for adventurous foreign policy moves and a bulwark against domestic protests, they can also threaten public order at home and embarrass Russia abroad as it seeks global prestige by hosting the 2018 World Cup.

When Russian hooligans fought with English fans in the city of Marseille on Saturday and then attacked them inside the stadium, the response in Russia was mixed. While Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said Sunday that those involved in disorder had “disgraced the country,” state media pushed the view that they had been provoked into violence, with one broadcaster portraying street battles in Marseille’s Old Port as a heroic Russian victory over English attackers.

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“Most people (in Russia) think the Russians were right” in Saturday’s fighting, said Evgeny Dzichkovsky, a columnist for Russia’s Sovetsky Sport newspaper. “A minority thinks they were just fighters who went there to start a conflict.”

The Russian state’s complex relationship with hardcore fans was defined in 2010, when thousands of fans angered by the death of a Spartak Moscow supporter in a fight with migrants from Russia’s North Caucasus occupied Manezh square near the Kremlin in a protest which turned into a race riot, with non-Slavic passers-by beaten and stabbed.

Despite the disorder being some of the most serious in Russia in recent years, police took a comparatively restrained approach, avoiding mass arrests. In a sign of conciliation, then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin laid flowers at the grave of the dead Spartak Moscow supporter.

“It was a typical populist gesture, and you have to say that the fans took it as a sign of support from those in power,” said Natalia Yudina, whose Moscow-based Sova Center monitors racism in Russian society, including at sports events.

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Alexander Baunov, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, says that while many nationalist fans in 2010 were critical of the government, they have since rallied to the Kremlin after “the Russian state exceeded their expectations” with the annexation of Crimea in 2014. In the event of future demonstrations, they could take to the streets as “groups of pro-Kremlin fighters,” Baunov argues.

An example of the intersection between fans and politics is the All-Russian Fans’ Union, which holds semi-official status with Russian football’s governing body and is led by Alexander Shprygin, a former assistant to Igor Lebedev, a lawmaker and soccer official who publicly backed Russian hooligans involved in Saturday’s violence. In turn, Lebedev is the son of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the LDPR party in the Russian parliament, a group which is stridently nationalist but rarely makes serious criticism of the government.

Shprygin is also a former leader of a hardcore Dynamo Moscow fan group and has been accused of involvement with far-right and racist groups by Yudina’s Sova Center and Fare, an anti-discrimination group affiliated with UEFA.

When the AP visited his offices last year, a T-Shirt was on display bearing the face of a former Torpedo Moscow player who was convicted of killing a man from Kyrgyzstan during a fight. Shprygin admitted he had repeatedly posted images of far-right symbols on social media, but insisted they were meant “not as propaganda,” but as illustrations of how the Russian fan scene used to be.

When French authorities arrested Shprygin and dozens of other Russian fans Tuesday in an investigation following Saturday’s violence, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the French ambassador for an official protest, warning that France was stoking “anti-Russian” feeling.

Hardcore fan groups, which include some hooligans, can benefit from “unofficial support and approval” from the authorities, says Dzichkovsky. In recent years, that has included some groups gaining the rights to distribute discounted tickets to games, or free charter flights for Shprygin’s group on the majority-state-owned airline Aeroflot.

Many hardcore fans hold nationalist views and are strong supporters of Russia’s foreign policy in the Ukraine crisis. The same views can also lead to racist incidents at games. Banners brought a charge of racist behavior by fans from European Championship organizer UEFA after Saturday’s game in Marseille.

Hooligan groups in Russia are well organized forces with many members boasting martial arts training. From the 2010 riots to numerous smaller battles with police in and around stadiums across Russia, they have proved a challenge for Russian law enforcement.

Many on the hooligan scene served in the military thanks to Russia’s system of conscription, and some appear to have fought with Russian-backed separatists during the conflict in eastern Ukraine, to judge by postings on internet forums favored by hardcore fans.

“It’s not surprising because the radical section of the Russian nationalists went to war,” Yudina said. “I think they all came back at some stage, which is also not very good because they’ve come back with combat experience and a tendency for violence.”

Reports: Russian spectators chase English through stands after equalizer

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Euro 2016 has started extremely ugly, and it’s had nothing to do with extremist or terrorist threats.

That is unless you count hooligans, and reportedly Russian spectators added to the distasteful scenes by chasing English fans after Denis Glushakov’s late equalizer Saturday in Marseille.

[ MORE: Third day of violence | England-Russia recap ]

Reports say English fans were forced to sprint through the seats and to the exists in order to avoid charging Russian fans.

From the BBC’s Phil McNulty:

“As Russia celebrate that late, late equaliser there are some very disturbing scenes behind the goal that was occupied by Joe Hart. Segregation was at best flimsy and Russian fans appeared to rush across in the direction of England’s fans, who have now cleared the area. A very bad end to the night.”

And this, from Jermaine Jenas:

There were thousands of English fans who were being made to run, almost for their lives there. We don’t know who was in there; there could be kids and women?

Now they have to go off out into the Marseille night.

We’ve been reading and writing about security concerns for this tournament for months, and those threats were obviously very real.

Stay tuned…

Soccer hooliganism still a threat heading into Euro 2016

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PARIS (AP) Hooliganism is making a comeback, and the timing could be bad with four high-risk matches in the first week of the European Championship in a country where the police force is already under huge strain.

Should one or more of these matches – England vs. Russia in Marseille on June 11; Turkey vs. Croatia the next day; and England vs. Wales and Germany vs. Poland both on June 16 – descend into violence, the football itself could quickly become overshadowed.

Police forces in France have been stretched since last November’s deadly terror attacks that killed 130 people. The last thing French authorities need is thugs causing mayhem. However, in the last two months alone there has been an increase in soccer violence around Europe.

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At the French Cup final, fans managed to sneak flares and objects into the Stade de France, despite a two-meter high security wall and triple security checks, while others tried to invade the pitch, raising serious concern ahead of Euro 2016, where the opening match between France and Romania takes place on June 10. In Germany, too, several hundred fans from Dynamo Dresden were held back by riot police to stop them attacking bitter rivals Madgdeberg in a third-division match in April, and mass arrests were made in May during the troublesome local derby between Frankfurt and Darmstadt.

In Sunday’s League One playoff final at London’s Wembley, fights broke out among supporters; Rangers and Hibernian fans poured onto the field to do battle at Hampden Park in the Scottish Cup final – a worrying throwback to the mid-1980s when hooliganism blighted Britain – Liverpool and Sevilla fans traded punches in the Europa League final in Switzerland; FC Zurich thugs charged down the tunnel last Wednesday to try to attack their own players following relegation from the Swiss Super League, and then battled riot police outside.

Although centered on inter-club rivalries, these troubles highlight how hooliganism has been creeping back after several years of good behavior.

In November, 2014, 43-year-old Deportivo fan Francisco Javier Romero Taboada died in hospital after emergency services had rescued him from a river where he was dumped after being heavily beaten during a fight against rival hooligans from Atletico Madrid.

This season, the Europa League has been hit with football violence. Heavy fighting at night between Italian side Napoli and Polish club Legia Warsaw, street battles between Spanish side Athletic Bilbao and Marseille; city center riots in Amsterdam between Ajax played Turkish club Fenerbahce. Other trouble involving, Lech Poznan from Poland; Belgian side Anderlecht, and Moscow-based sides CSKA, Lokomotiv and Dinamo.

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A further 10 matches at Euro 2016 are identified as risky – including Germany vs. Ukraine; Slovakia vs. England, and Russia vs. Wales – and there will be increased border controls and tighter security at train stations and airports, in addition to eight police spotters from each country to identify potential hooligans.

“All of those who are subject to a banning order will be prevented from leaving their country by their local police in so far as their legislation allows,” said Antoine Boutonnet, the head of French police’s anti-hooliganism division. “Furthermore, we have gathered information on potential risks and will continue to do so during the tournament.”

But hooligans show determination and ingenuity to avoid police detection.

—-

A LOOK AT THE 5 HIGH-RISK GAMES AT EURO 2016 AND OTHER RISK FACTORS:

ENGLAND VS. RUSSIA: JUNE 11 IN MARSEILLE:

The match is being held in the sunny seaport of Marseille and the fact that English and Russian football fans are likely to be drinking in the sun adds to the risk. As well as potential for violence between English and Russians, there is history between the English and the local Arab population of Marseille stemming from the 1998 World Cup, where Marseille’s old port and nearby beach were turned into battle zones in two days of fighting around the England-Tunisia game.

“That is a considerable time ago and the behavior of England fans has improved markedly since,” assistant chief constable Mark Roberts, who leads soccer policing in Britain, told The Associated Press. “(But) we need to be careful not to assume.”

The risk of confrontation with Russian groups could be higher because their traditional inter-club rivalries will have been put aside, with a new hooligan’s charter explaining how they should stick together. One bulletin point reads: “During Russian national team matches, all groups must be united, without fighting each other. This is cease-fire.”

TURKEY VS. CROATIA: JUNE 12 IN PARIS:

This match also carries risk, on a historical and geo-political level.

“When Turkey played Croatia in the Euro 2008 quarterfinals in Vienna (Austria), there were incidents in Mostar (Bosnia) where the Bosnians were supporting Turkey,” Loic Tregoures, a lecturer in world politics at Lille university and a specialist in Balkans football, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

The Croatians have a few virulent groups, notably Dinamo Zagreb’s BBB (Bad Blue Boys) and Hajduk Split’s Torcida.

Another potential problem could arise from PSG hooligans, who were among the most active in Europe in the past 20 years until a massive clampdown five years ago. Banned from their own Parc des Princes stadium, PSG hooligans have targeted Champions League fixtures, clashing violently with Zagreb’s BBB in the Bastille area of Paris the night before a Champions League game in Dec. 2012. As well as the potential for clashes between PSG’s hooligans and BBB – another dark threat exists.

“There are Serbs among the former PSG hooligans, so you can imagine what could happen,” Tregoures said. “This kind of tournament is the opportunity to measure oneself.”

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ENGLAND VS. WALES: JUNE 16 IN LENS:

Among the more prominent hooligan elements in Britain are Chelsea’s “Headhunters” and Cardiff’s “Soul Crew”- and hundreds fought on the Kings Road in London before an FA Cup match between the sides in 2010. Such inter-club rivalries may potentially resurface on the international scene, where hooligan groups have followed the national team. This means potential scope for trouble between thugs from Wales and other English hooligan groups should they come across each other; and also Welsh in-fighting between sworn enemies Cardiff and Swansea.

The location of Lens, in northern France, makes it easy and quick to reach from Paris.

“Given the proximity to France there is the potential for people to make multiple trips out there,” Roberts told The AP. “If we identify someone who causes problems we will seek a banning order immediately to prevent them traveling again to France.”

GERMANY VS. POLAND: JUNE 16 IN PARIS:

Polish and German hooligans seeking to clash at the 2006 World Cup were foiled when police intercepted Polish hooligans trying to enter Germany. The hooligan culture in both countries tends more toward pre-arranged meets – “Fights” – often in forests or deserted areas.

There has been a revival in hooliganism in Germany, especially in the east with teams from Dresden and Liepzig, while Poland has some of Europe’s most violent hooligan groups (Lech Poznan, GKS Katowice, Legia Warsaw, Cracovia and Wisla Krakow).

The main threat here would be a confrontation of a pre-arranged type, rather than a sporadic outbreak of violence.

“(Polish hooligans) will try and make contact, offer to arrange meetings – but whether anyone accepts is a different matter,” Tregoures says.

UKRAINE VS. POLAND: JUNE 21 IN MARSEILLE

While football violence in Ukraine is prominent at club level among hooligans from Dynamo Kiev, Shakhtar Donetsk, Meltalist and Dnipro, Ukrainian hooligan groups don’t usually travel to national team games. However, they have put aside club feuds and have extra incentive to come to France.

“This is the first tournament since the war, and the Russian presence may increase their motivation to travel,” Tregoures said.

MOTIVATION LEVELS:

So long as they manage to enter the country, journeying to France should not pose a problem for thugs because their motivation goes a long way – sometimes literally.

Last November, hooligans from Red Star Belgrade drove for hours in white minivans – slipping the police by claiming they were on a wedding-party trip to Athens – in order to attack Balkan rivals from Dinamo Zagreb’s BBB hooligans at Athens airport.

Zagreb fans were flying back from the airport following a Europa League game against Olympiakos. So Red Star teamed up with thugs from Olympiakos – friends from a long-standing alliance – to attack BBB hooligans.

The explosion of ultra-violence, in broad daylight and captured on Greek TV, ended with two BBB hooligans lying on the floor, blood pouring from their heads.

When Dynamo Kiev hosted Dinamo Zagreb in 2012, Russian hooligans from Spartak Moscow travelled nearly 900 kilometers to fight with BBB.

“They left three days before, saying they were going to a concert,” Tregoures said.

POLICE OVER-REACTION

Unlike other countries like Germany, the French riot police do not initiate dialogue with troublemakers. It is more about repression than defusing a situation, and police over-reaction can escalate a rowdy situation into a dangerous one. When Lille hosted Everton in the Europa League in October, 2014 beer-fueled Everton fans, singing songs and dropping the odd glass, were baton-charged and had CRS gas sprayed on them. When PSG faced Chelsea in the Champions League in February, there were reports of Chelsea fans being tear-gassed during their goal celebration.

There will be multiple situations during Euro 2016 where large groups will gather, drinking and singing – without necessarily posing a threat.

“We have got to understand that the numbers going, some of them may not have been to football before,” Roberts said. “They will have been encouraged to go by the festival atmosphere. And when you get that number of people taking drink there is always the potential for some issues.”

AP Sports Writer Rob Harris in London contributed to this report.