The Current

Legalizing soccer hooliganism won't prevent fan violence, say experts

With the World Cup on its way to Moscow next year, a Russian politician has proposed to make an organized sport out of soccer hooliganism. The idea sheds light on the ugly side of the beautiful game.
A Russian fan holds up two flares during the Group B match between England and Russia held in Marseille, France at the Euro 2016. UEFA imposed a fine on the Russian soccer federation and threatened to suspend the country from the tournament if violence continued. (Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

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A Russian politician has proposed legalizing organized soccer hooliganism to prevent fan violence from spilling out into the streets.

Igor Lebedev, a Russian lawmaker known for his support of hooliganism, is suggesting the practice be made into a sanctioned spectator sport.

Not everyone thinks it's a realistic idea.

"On the face of it, it's a laughable idea and has quite rightly been dismissed out of hand as being foolhardy, to say the least," says former soccer hooligan Dougie Brimson.

While he doesn't really see hooligans accepting the idea, Brimson tells The Current's Friday host Marcia Young it's not that far removed from other spectator sports we've become accustomed to. 

"If you look at it objectively, 10 years ago we would never have thought for one second that we would have mainstream TV showing stuff like mixed martial arts, cage fighting, which we have today," he says.

"So is it really that much of a stretch to see a sport involving groups of 10 people fighting each other in a stadium? Personally I don't think [it] is. I don't think it is right, but I don't think it's a stretch of the imagination."

With Russia hosting the upcoming 2018 World Cup, there is concern over the likelihood of bloodshed after the European Championship in Marseille culminated in violent clashes between Russian, English, and French soccer fans that left hundreds injured.

Soccer fans clash again with French police

5 years ago
Police in riot gear confront belligerent English fans in town of Lille 0:36
Soccer journalist Eoin O'Callaghan says there were several factors that led to the outbreak of violence in Marseille.

But while violence at large international games is a possibility, O'Callaghan is confident most fans are focused on the soccer.

"There's been a documented problem in Russia ... and there has been an attempt to get better at it," he says.

 "I really cannot see the World Cup in 2018 being, you know, a cacophony of violence."

O'Callaghan tells Young there's a lot of pressure riding on Russia to have the World Cup run smoothly, but it's a great opportunity for the country.

"Ultimately when you host the World Cup tournament anywhere it's about the game itself. And Russian football fans want people to remember that ... you know it's the first World Cup to ever be held in Eastern Europe," says O'Callaghan.

"This is a big moment for them."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Steph Kampf and Shannon Higgins.