For a while now, the football world has had various concerns about Russia’s suitability for staging the greatest show on earth. Corruption, racism and homophobia are the main ones but in the wake of the battle of Marseille comes what should be the clincher: this country is simply too stupid to be allowed to host the 2018 World Cup.
“Well done lads. Keep it up!” These were the words of Igor Lebedev after a savage gang of Ultras brought terror to the Euros. The sickening scenes of violence before, during and after Russia’s game with England prompted shock and revulsion, but this clown said: “I don’t see anything wrong with the fans fighting. Quite the opposite.”
Who is he? Lebedev is an MP, a member of the far-right Liberal Democratic Party, and we know how opportunistic, mob-pleasing and idiotic politicians can be when they get involved in football. But he also has a football job so you’d think he might know better. Not Igor.
His outburst began on Twitter, but in case you thought his country’s late equaliser had caused him to get too over-excited, he expanded on his bonkers views later in an interview with a news agency. “In nine out of ten cases, football fans go to games to fight and that’s normal,” added the executive committee member of the Russian Football Union. “The lads defended the honour of their country and did not let the English fans desecrate our motherland. We should forgive and understand our fans.”
The Russians have been fined the piffling amount of €150,000 (£118,857) and warned that under the terms of a suspended disqualification they’ll be booted out of the tournament if there’s any more trouble. But if Lebedev is serious in his remarks – there’s no evidence that he’s also a stand-up satirical comedian – and his obscene views would be echoed by others in Russia, then the World Cup should be moved.
Consider, too, the comments of Vladimir Markin, who is the spokesman for Russia’s Investigative Committee. He took to Twitter to sneer at French efforts to contain the violence, claiming the police could not handle “real men” because they were more used to controlling gay-pride marches. Last year Markin condemned the American-led corruption probe into Russia’s World Cup, arguing it would be more worthwhile to investigate the US moon landings.
But even if these remarks are not typical, the World Cup should still be moved. The Ultras have done enough for that to happen. They’ve launched enough explosives inside a stadium and caused enough women and children to flee for their lives. They’ve thrown enough chairs and kicked enough heads and caused enough blood to be spilled on the streets. There are no degrees of hooliganism; all of it is appalling and shameful for the countries involved, one of whom is currently trying to convince the rest of the continent that its debate about Europe happening at the same time as this mayhem is sophisticated and intelligent.
But just say there were degrees. A gathering of fools drinking too much and singing too loudly in town squares is one thing. If they take off their shirts, stand on pub tables and with arms outstretched chant about nationhood in a threatening manner, it’s horrible.
But the choreography and viciousness of these Russian thugs is quite another thing. They dressed in some kind of uniform. They protected their own teeth with gumshields, hoping to smash those of their victims. The look was completed with cage-fighting gloves. Marseille chief prosecutor Brice Robin called the Ultras “well-trained, hyper-violent and extreme”. In his city they left calling cards boasting “RIP English hooligans”.
One of the most alarming images from the Stade Velodrome was of an English father, fear etched on his face, protecting the head of his son as he attempted to carry the boy to safety after the Russian hooligans had all too easily broken into their rivals’ section of the ground. There’s no doubt the security for this game – city of immigrants, England with their Marseille “previous”, Russia with their racist goons, 9pm kick-off allowing everyone to get properly tanked up – was a joke.
Yesterday, trying to return the debate to football and pointing out the Euros weren’t a “street-fighting championship”, Russian striker Artem Dzyuba challenged what he saw as the English media’s one-sided view of the violence. “There’s the impression that England supporters are like angels,” he said.
Well, I’ve heard plenty of English criticism of English fans and the part they played in the battle of Marseille. Plenty, too, of how, even if some of them never actually threw a punch or aimed a kick, their goading, leering, imperialist and still menacing behaviour set the tone for the day and invited a challenge. And the English view on Europe and immigration, as it’s interpreted on the continent right now – that’s been mentioned, too, and regretted.
But while England desperately wanted the 2018 World Cup, Russia beat them to it. What, though, have Russians done over the last few days, when you examine those bone-crushing actions and boneheaded words, to suggest they should keep it?