Russia must be stripped of the 2018 World Cup

There are still two years to go until the World Cup takes places in Russia, but it is already one of the most controversial tournaments in football history. There have been numerous questions asked about the decision to award the tournament to Russia amid allegations of FIFA officials taking bribes for votes. However Saturday’s events in Marseille showed us why a World Cup in Russia cannot happen, with hooliganism and racism still rife amongst football supporters in the country.

Very few people will remember the game of football that took place in Marseille on Saturday night. The match between Russia and England, both sides’ first at Euro 2016, was in fact a very entertaining one, with Vasili Berezutski levelling in stoppage time after Eric Dier had given England the lead with a powerful free kick.

Unfortunately the game will live long in the memory for events that took place off the pitch, not on it. At the full time whistle, Russian supporters crossed barriers between the fans, sending England fans scurrying for cover. This was an incident that went way beyond the usual friendly banter we see between football fans in England.

Not long after Berezutski equalised for Russia, fans were seen climbing over barriers to reach England supporters, situated just a few metres away. Videos posted online and eye witness reports tell a story of Russians making violent advances on English fans, sending them running for safety in the midst of genuine fear.

This was not a spur of the moment attack. Reports suggest that a firework was set off among Russian fans to signal the beginning of an attack on both English fans and French neutrals. Many were dressed in balaclavas to hide their identities, with a video showing a flare gun being fired into opposition fans.

This was a planned attack, something that was repeated on the streets of Marseille both before and after the game. Journalists and fans have shared stories of groups of Russian’s in black shirts and balaclavas charging at England fans, armed with knives. One England fan is in a serious condition in hospital following an attack, while numerous others have reported injuries.

The fact is that the idea of hooliganism is engraved in the culture of Russian football, and there are regular incidents of fans in the country turning up with the sole purpose of causing trouble. Russian media summed up the attitude to the problem in the nation, by claiming England fans made a “cowardly retreat from the field of battle”.

Russia 2018Hooliganism is a problem that simply hasn’t been dealt with in Russia. In other nations, this was something that was put a stop to decades ago, but not in Russia. There is no way that a World Cup can be held there just two years from now, and we can guarantee the safety of all the travelling supporters.

There will be some blame rightly placed on security forces in France for the lack of segregation and the very small numbers of stewards, but when England goalkeeper Joe Hart is having to tell fans to stay in the stadium to “stay safe”, we have a serious problem.

Given that this is something that has gone on in Russia for so long, it isn’t something that authorities will be able to stamp out before the World Cup. UEFA has threatened to throw both Russia and England out of the tournament if they are responsible for any more crowd trouble, but this isn’t realistically going to happen.

The only way that we can ensure fans are safe to travel to Russia in the future is to strip them of the World Cup. This is the only action that will give the Russian FA, who at times have been seen to be almost sympathisers of hooliganism amongst football supporters, any reason to take action over the issue in the country, and judging from Saturday’s events, action is clearly needed.

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