A leading Russian football official has praised the fans involved in violent clashes that has marred the start of Euro 2016, and has encouraged them to “keep it up”.
Igor Lebedev, a member of the Russian Football Union [RFU] executive committee as well as an MP of the Liberal Democratic party in Russia and deputy chairman of Russian parliament, made the controversial comments on Twitter in which he claimed that the assault on English fans in the lead up to Saturday’s Group B encounter was vindicated.
Lebedev blamed the local authorities for failing to organise the event to the necessary level required to prevent such outbreaks of violence, and he also criticised England fans for provoking their opponents, claiming that they brought the trouble on themselves.
Writing in a series of posts on Twitter, Lebedev said: “I don’t see anything wrong with the fans fighting. Quite the opposite, well done lads, keep it up!
“I don’t understand those politicians and officials who are criticising our fans. We should defend them, and then we can sort it out when they come home.
“What happened in Marseille and in other French towns is not the fault of fans, but about the inability of police to organise this kind of event properly.
“Our fans are far from the worst; it’s unclear why a lot of media are trying to say our fans’ actions were shameful. You should be objective. If there had been no provocation from English fans, it’s unlikely our fans would have got into fights in the stands.”
In additional quotes given to Russian news agency life.ru, Lebedev added: “In nine out of 10 cases, football fans go to games to fight, and that’s normal. The lads defended the honour of their country and did not let English fans desecrate our motherland. We should forgive and understand our fans.”
Russian supporters involved in the gang attacks have been condemned for the violence that saw riot police use tear gas to try and disperse large groups on three consecutive days after the clashes began on Thursday night. Uefa launched an investigation into the events that followed the 1-1 draw at the Stade Velodrome, with England fans seen fleeing for safety as they were charged at by Russian supporters.
19 English fans were taken to hospital following clashes throughout Saturday, and Uefa has also threatened both nations with disqualification from Euro 2016 if the unsightly scenes happen again.
The Russian sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, conceded that Uefa was right to launch the investigation, despite initially playing down the incident inside Marseille’s stadium. Mutko was seen cheering on the Russian fans after the match, when the clashes were taking place in front of where he was standing.
“It’s clear that some people didn’t come here to watch football. They’ve covered their faces and then brought shame on their country,” Mutko said.
However, Lebedev suggested that had Mutko been one of the fans in the Stade Velodrome stands, he too would have attacked the English supporters “because they provoked it”.
“We ought to thank him for not being indifferent to football, and for the fact that he doesn’t just get involved in the sporting side but also gives a lot of attention to work with the supporters,”Lebedev added. “I personally think that if Mutko had been with the fans in the stands and was not an official, he would have also have got into the fight with the England fans, because they provoked it.”
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