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Russia Football Violence Stokes Fears Ahead of World Cup 2018

  • Henry Ridgwell

More fighting has broken out between Russia and England fans gathering in the northern French city of Lille for the Euro 2016 football tournament.

The violence has raised security fears ahead of the 2018 World Cup due to be held in Russia as evidence grows of links between hooligans and far-right political groups.

Some of the Russian hooligans filmed their assaults on camera and posted them online.

The video is all part of the propaganda, said criminologist Alberto Testa of the University of West London, a specialist in football violence.

'Neo-Nazi hooliganism'

“Russia has a big problem of neo-Nazi hooliganism. So it is not a new phenomenon, but European Cup is a perfect stage for them to become known, because there is also a narcissistic kind of trait on them," Testa said.

Russia’s ultranationalist fans see themselves fighting the Kremlin’s geopolitical battles in miniature.

“Some of them have a background in the military,” Testa said. “They are generally very good in boxing and martial arts. And they plan carefully and in detail their violence.”

They have the support of some government officials.

People run after police fired tear gas following clashes after the Euro 2016 soccer championship group B match between England and Russia in Marseille, France on June 11, 2016.

People run after police fired tear gas following clashes after the Euro 2016 soccer championship group B match between England and Russia in Marseille, France on June 11, 2016.

Igor Lebedev, a lawmaker and executive committee member of the Russian football union, wrote on Twitter after the Marseille clashes: “Well done lads, keep it up!”

He has since denied condoning violence and blamed French police.

Lebedev told reporters Tuesday that French authorities “turned out completely unable to prepare and hold such a big sporting event like the European championship.”

Violent fans across Europe

Testa said that across Europe, groups of violent fans are becoming increasingly organized, many of them with close links to far-right political groups such as the anti-Islam Pegida movement.

“This originated in Germany from actually neo-Nazi hooligans, the ‘New Hunters.’ But they have a branch here in the UK, 'Pegida UK,' which not surprisingly is led by a former hooligan," Testa said.

Russia is due to host the football World Cup in 2018. The Russian fans’ actions in France have raised fears over security.

“At the World Cup, there will be dangers from this group. But also I think there can be some danger by the English hooligans,” Testa said.

The biggest danger is further collusion between far-right political forces and highly organized hooligans, targeting not only rivals, but also political opponents and minority groups, he said.

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