March 7 – A Russian politician has proposed a somewhat unorthodox solution to the country’s hooliganism problem ahead of next year’s World Cup: legalise it and turn it into a spectator sport.
Organised groups of Russian fans, many with martial arts training, fought English supporters on the streets of Marseille during last year’s European Championship whilst a recent BBC documentary provided chilling evidence of the scope of the problem.
Igor Lebedev, who sits in the Russian parliament and is also on the board of the Russian Football Union, has drawn up rules for what he calls ‘draka’, the Russian word for ‘fight’ – with 20 fighters on each side, unarmed, in an cordoned off arena.
In a statement on the website of the nationalist LDPR party, Lebedev said organised brawls “could turn fans’ aggression in a peaceful direction.”
He also claimed it would serve as an “example” for English fans, who he characterised as undisciplined louts and poor fighters.
“Russia would be a pioneer in a new sport,” said Lebedev, who also suggested fights between different fan groups could draw crowds of thousands. “English fans arrive, for example, and start picking fights. And they get the answer challenge accepted. A meeting in a stadium at a set time.”
Some fan groups in Russia already hold illicit fights along similar lines, typically pre-arranged mass brawls in rural locations.
Lebedev is reported as being a longtime associate of fans leader Alexander Shprygin, who was deported from France last year following the Marseille violence.
But despite his apparent enthusiasm for his novel idea, which can surely only cause embarrassment and irritation among World Cup organisers, Lebedev insisted Russian policing meant foreign fans wouldn’t be in danger at the tournament. “We’ve taken all the safety measures, modernised legislation. Not a single tourist has any reason to fear traveling to our country.”
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