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Russian lawmaker proposes to legalise football hooliganism

A leading politician in Russia's legislative assembly has proposed turning behaviour which has plagued football in Europe into a sport of its own

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Russian lawmaker proposes to legalise football hooliganism

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A Russian politician has proposed turning fights among football fans into a sport.

Football hooliganism, a violent football fan culture which as recently as last year’s UEFA Euro championship tournament in France saw several open clashes between rival teams, has been an unfortunate, and highly scrutinised, aspect of football fandom clubs and cities have contended with since the 1880s.

In past decades football clubs have led crackdowns against hooliganism in an effort to widen football’s spectator appeal and improve its reputation.

But just as Russia next year prepares to host the World Cup, Igor Lebedev, a member of the Russian Football Union and the Deputy Chairman of the Duma, has offered to make football hooliganism a sanctioned sport, causing concern it could lead to wide-spread unrest during the international tournament.

Lebedev, whose party has become known for courting controversy, published his latest statement on his website : 20 unarmed competitors itching for a fight would be allowed to meet and settle their differences at an organised time and place.

Lebedev said the organised fights would allow fans to exert their aggression in a “peaceful way”. By taking place in at a stadium, he adds, the fights could attract as many spectators as the football tournament’s games themselves.

“Russia would be a pioneer in a new sport,” Lebedev said. “Fans arrive, for example, and start picking fights. And they get the answer – challenge accepted. A meeting in a stadium at a set time.”

Last month a BBC documentary entitled Russia’s Hooligan Army claimed to reveal how Russian football hooligans, or “ultras”, are planning a “festival of violence” against visiting fans.

During the Euro football tournament in France, Russia and England fans clashed in Marseille before and immediately after their 1-1 group stage draw. A group of 20 Russian supporters were deported following the violence and the tournament’s organisers threatened to disqualify both teams if it continued.

In a separate incident England fans also clashed with police in Lille. Thirty-six were arrested.

Lebedev at the time praised the violence, saying he saw nothing wrong with fans fighting and urged Russia fans to “carry on”.

International outrage of the Euro 2016 violence prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to condemn the clashes as a “disgrace”.

Lebedev, in his comment, said French officials should have been more prepared for violence during the 2016 tournament, but said Russia had taken necessary measures and updated legislation in preparation for football’s largest event.

He said visiting fans should not be afraid to travel to Russia for the World Cup.

On Saturday, however, fans of CSKA Moscow and Zenit St Petersburg fought inside the stands, breaking security fences and throwing smoke bombs, during the teams’ regular league match in the Russian capital.