Will Russian Hooligans Threaten Fan Safety at Fifa World Cup?

On June 14th, the Fifa World Cup began in Russia, marking the beginning of one of the world’s largest sports tournaments. When the host country was initially announced, there were concerns. President Vladimir Putin promised that the people of Russia would do their best to secure the comfort and safety of their guests. Still, many were wary.  

Two years ago at the European Championships in France, the world saw a side of Russia that lacked the safety and comfort President Putin promised. Violence swept the streets as Russian sports fans brutally attacked English fans, ultimately leaving five Britons critically injured. Over a hundred were injured and over 30 people ended up in the hospital.

The violent gang of sports fanatics is known as the Russian Hooligans.

The Russian Hooligans have created a football culture where violence is not only the norm but is celebrated.

But what is the purpose of their senseless assaults and sports terrorism?

In a recent BBC documentary, a Russian Hooligan stated that when they are good, no one remembers them. But when they are bad, no one forgets them.

The sports terrorist group is not known for being a drunk mob of football fans. In fact, the Russian Hooligans are often compared to a military operation. They move together, chant together, and are known for their brutality. Witnesses say it is apparent that they spend time in the gym, lifting and training. One hooligan was even quoted saying that death is the only reason to cease fighting. They fight in groups, taking on one person, then leave them lying in the streets as they move on to their next victim.

Yet Russia is not the only country whose band of hooligans is taking sports rowdiness to a new level. England has hooligans of their own. In the middle of June, England’s Home Office banned more than 1,300 known hooligans from traveling to the World Cup games. The decision stemmed from the Football Banning Orders Authority, requiring hooligans that held passports to surrender them to police. The goal of the ban was to ensure that fans traveling to Russia actually wanted to enjoy the tournament, not cause trouble.

With headlines roaring about the likely potential at the World Cup, Russia worried about how they would attract visitors. Yet any effort that was made was ultimately undermined by the racist and homophobic threats Russian soccer fans have continued to make on social media in the weeks leading up to the tournament.

The widespread concern has led to a historical change. For the first time in its 88-years, FIFA –the global soccer federation– has granted referees the right to interrupt or call of a game if there are racist chants or slurs.  

Will it be enough? Perhaps only time will tell, as the games are now officially underway.

Despite the precautions that are being taken, safety officials warn fans to be careful when traveling and attending games.

The Football Supporters Federation advised fans to travel in groups and not travel alone. Meanwhile, Professor Anthony Glees, director of the University of Buckingham's Centre for Security and Intelligence, warned England fans to think twice about whether the risk was worth it.

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