Russia’s representation at Euro 2016 has triggered fresh fears over the 2018 World Cup. In the build up to Euro 2016, the primary concern regarding the Russian-hosted tournament – set to take place in two years’ time – had been the suspicious manner in which the nation was awarded the hosting rights by Fifa. If that alone wasn’t enough, the added bonus of racism and violence has left many people wondering… why haven’t Fifa taken the tournament away from Russia?
Russia have been handed a suspended disqualification from Euro 2016 by Uefa following the crowd violence inside the Stade Velodrome during the 1-1 draw with England last Saturday, in addition to the Russian Football Union (RFU) receiving a fine of €150,000.
In plain English, a suspended disqualification means that any more trouble surrounding the national side will result in their ejection from the competition.
After throwing missiles and fireworks intending to cause harm during the match, a large section of Russian supporters then charged at England fans, breezing through the inadequate security provided at the game. 19 British citizens were admitted to hospital, four of whom have been described as being in a serious condition, fighting life-threatening injuries as a result of the assault.
If the Uefa organised tournament hasn’t been enough, Fifa will get the opportunity to see first-hand whether Russia can organise a major football tournament, without fan violence overshadowing the occasion, as the Confederations Cup heads to Eastern Europe next summer, a year before the 2018 World Cup visits the country. Russia needs to prove it can contain all the issues that have marred their representation at Euro 2016, but there’s been no evidence to suggest they will.
When senior government officials, such as the now infamous Igor Lebedev – deputy chairman of the Russian parliament and also an executive of the Russian football association – actively defend the actions of the fans, this has to flag concerns to Fifa.
If indeed this culture of violence can spread right up to government figures, surely this raises concerns about the way policing will be conducted in Russia in 2018 – if Russian gangs are given free reign of the streets, the fans from of other competing nations may be advised to stay away.
BBC commentator Alan Green revealed his mind was already made up the moment Fifa chose Russia ahead of England to stage the 2018 World Cup five and a half years ago, he has decisively stated that he will not be attending the tournament with the broadcaster.
Green referenced a game 18 months prior to the announcement, Manchester United’s Champions League victory over Chelsea in Moscow:
“The whole atmosphere around that game was horrendous, and I thought, ‘I do not wish to return here’.
“So, as soon as I knew that Fifa had chosen Russia, I think mistakenly, as the venue for the World Cup, I didn’t want to have anything to do with it remotely.”
Russia have a history of violence at international tournaments. The prevailing thought from Russia’s last European Championship – one that ended with the team crashing out in shocking fashion against Greece – was racism. During their team’s first game across the border in Ukraine, fans directed racist chants at Czech full back Gebre Salassie.
Later in the year, fans of one of Russia’s largest clubs, Zenit St. Petersburg, stated outright that they were not prepared to tolerate any non-white or gay players on their team. Fans from Zenit have been prominent amongst the violent scenes at Euro 2016.
In order to increase their chances of causing mayhem, gangs from rival clubs have converged, with emblems from leading clubs Spartak Moscow, CSKA Moscow and Zenit St Petersburg all on display amid the carnage.
It seems ludicrous that a nation so enriched by violence, racism, bribery and corruption should ever be considered a suitable host for the nations of world football. No-one wants to see Euro 2016 spoilt by Russian violence, and of course no-one wishes for any more casualties at the hands of Eastern European tyranny – but in many ways, Russian disqualification would be the ideal outcome.
If Russia are disqualified then it would place immense pressure on Fifa to withdraw the World Cup in 2018. The only way football fans could be ensured safety ahead of the next World Cup is if the tournament is completely uprooted and taken somewhere that deserves it.