Russian politician calls for 'legalisation' of football hooliganism ahead of 2018 World Cup

Igor Lebedev, who sits in the Russian parliament, said organized brawls 'could turn fans' aggression in a peaceful direction'

Samuel Lovett
Sunday 05 March 2017 17:12
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Fears are mounting over hooliganism at next year's World Cup
Fears are mounting over hooliganism at next year's World Cup

A Russian lawmaker has proposed an unorthodox solution to the country's problems with football hooliganism ahead of next year's World Cup — legalise it and make it a spectator sport.

Organised groups of Russian fans, many with martial arts training, fought English fans on the streets of Marseille during last year's European Championship.

That inspired Igor Lebedev, who sits in the Russian parliament, to draw up rules for what he calls "draka," the Russian word for "fight" — 20 fighters on each side, unarmed, in an arena.

In a statement on the website of the nationalist LDPR party, Lebedev said organized brawls "could turn fans' aggression in a peaceful direction." He also claimed it would serve as an "example" for English fans, who he characterised as undisciplined louts and poor fighters.

"Russia would be a pioneer in a new sport," said Lebedev, who also suggested fights between different fan groups could draw crowds of thousands. "English fans arrive, for example, and start picking fights. And they get the answer — challenge accepted. A meeting in a stadium at a set time."

Some fan groups in Russia already hold illicit fights along similar lines, typically pre-arranged mass brawls in rural locations, away from police.

It isn't the first time Lebedev has courted controversy with his views on hooligans. He hailed the violence in Marseille last year, telling Russian fans: "Well done lads, keep it up!"

In addition to his parliamentary duties as deputy speaker, Lebedev is also on the board of the Russian Football Union.

He's a longtime associate of fan leader Alexander Shprygin, who was deported from France last year following the Marseille violence.

Two board members of an organisation run by Shprygin were given prison sentences.

Despite his enthusiasm for football-related violence, Lebedev insisted Russian policing meant foreign fans wouldn't be in danger at the World Cup.

"We've taken all the safety measures, modernised legislation. Not a single tourist has any reason to fear travelling to our country in the summer of 2018."

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