Diplomatic Spin Off to Football Violence Hits France Hard
NEW DELHI: This year’s European Football Championship is slowly turning into a mini-disaster for an already reeling France. The kickoff on June 10 of the month long football extravaganza was marred by images of garbage strewn all over the capital, Paris. The misery has been compounded by a general strike that has also impacted the transportation sector.
All of this becomes worrisome in a context of strong security threats as France continues to remain in emergency following the Paris attacks in November. The French administration must have been hoping that on-field action would distract the focus from these issues; however, events of late have gone horribly off script for them.
It all began with the England-Russia encounter in Marseille on June 12. A day before the match, widespread violence broke out between the two sets of fans in the old port area. The hooliganism was driven by alcohol and the absence of proper security presence in the area.
French riot police were quick to descend in large numbers only leading to further fracas as fans tried to flee the tear gas and water cannons. The incident led to multiple English fans suffering injuries and being taken to the hospital as some 150 “well-trained Russians” were marked out as the primary aggressors by the French authorities. UEFA, the European football governing body warned both sides that further violence could spell disqualification for them.
The warning failed to have the desired effect on the fans. Soon after the final whistle of the game on June 12 in Stade Velodrome, that ended 1-1 with Russia equalizing in stoppage time, flares were lit off in the Russian section. Hordes of Russian fans were then seen to run towards the area where the English fans were sitting leading to another frenzy of violence. The French authorities were blamed for improper security and a failure to effectively segregate the two sets of fans. UEFA acted on its earlier threat and Russia was given suspended disqualification from the tournament alongside a 150,000 Euros fine. The English escaped with a stern warning.
French authorities announced that security would be beefed for the future games as 4,000 additional police officials were called up. Apart from this a number of Russian fans were rounded up and most of them held for deportation. The Russian foreign ministry on Wednesday, responded by summoning the French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert as the issue started to turn ugly. The ministry came out in the fan’s support and said, “[that] further stoking of anti-Russian sentiments over Russia's participation in the championship could significantly aggravate the atmosphere in Russian-French relations”.
The Russian forward Artem Dyzuba weighed in on the controversy saying, “I don't really understand the reaction of the British media, who have this impression England supporters are like angels who just behave themselves. You have to be objective, there is 50-50 in every conflict. I don't see that the Russians are the only ones at fault.” Whereas the Russian coach Leonid Slutsky came out and said, “We are sure our supporters will not do the same and will not give any reasons to disqualify our team.” However, in a now familiar pattern, the request was not heeded to by the Russian fans. During their 1-2 loss to Slovakia last night, a flare was seen to have been lit in the Russian section in Stade Pierre Mauroy in Lille as Denis Glushakov scored for Russia.
The action, if conclusively proven, is in clear violation of UEFA regulations. This will create a tricky situation for UEFA to act on, as their earlier warning clearly stipulated that, “suspension will be lifted if incidents of a similar nature (crowd disturbances) happen inside the stadium at any of the remaining matches of the Russian team during the tournament.” The fact that Russia is hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup will only serve to complicate matters for UEFA. An extended punishment will although be nothing new as Russia was handed a 6 point deduction alongside a monetary fine at the last European Championship in 2012 for similar instances of crowd trouble in the stadiums.
It now remains to be seen how UEFA chooses to handle the situation as reneging on its earlier warning could only serve to encourage further incidents by the fans through the tournament. For the French, the controversy couldn’t have come at a worse time as they continue to make all efforts to ensure the tournament runs smoothly, something that has so far failed to be the case.