Russian MP Wants To Make Soccer Hooliganism A Sport

It's certainly a novel solution

Bro, it's over — AFP/Getty Images
Mar 06, 2017 at 11:16 AM ET

A Russian member of parliament wants to redefine the term “spectator sport” in advance of the 2018 World Cup by turning hooliganism into a sport.

Igor Lebedev is not just any parliamentarian, either. He’s the leader of the Liberal Democratic party, the deputy speaker of the Duma, and a member of the Russian Football Union’s executive committee. If his name vaguely rings a bell, that could be because he drew headlines for saying he saw “nothing wrong” with the violence perpetrated by Russian hooligans that injured dozens of Euro 2016 fans—including two who lapsed into a coma.

Lebedev also claimed that the heavily-sourced McLaren Report on Russian doping had “no evidence” and called upon a certain populist president to squash the allegations, saying, “We hope that all Russians favorite Mr. Trump will put an end to this.”

His most recent notion: at next year’s World Cup, there should be an organized “draka,” or fight, between the fans of opposing countries. This was posted on his party’s website (as reported by the Associated Press), where Lebedev suggested that 20 fans (i.e. fighters) on each side would rumble in an arena, claiming that the melees “could turn fans’ aggression in a peaceful direction.” And that’s not all. Lebedev is said to claim this would be a proper “example” for English fans as unskilled and undisciplined fighters.

“Russia would be a pioneer in a new sport,” Lebedev said.

Russia has a long history of fan violence and racism—as seen by everyone else, even if some won’t cop to it—which was documented in the recent BBC documentary, “Russia’s Hooligan Army.” The film details how groups have tryouts in the forest where they wear gimp masks and balaclavas and audition to join a “firm” of hooligans.

This helps explain the comments of Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin, who said of the Russian hooligans at Euro Cup: “These people were well prepared for ultra-rapid, ultra-violent action. These are extremely well-trained people.” He noted, however, that they were more “extreme” than “professional.” Some 150 neo-nazi Ultras were estimated to have flown into Marseille for the occasion.

One hooligan who went by the name of Vladimir told the Telegraph last summer, “The English always say they are the main football hooligans. We went to show that the English are girls.” He said the Russians are often younger with martial arts training while the English are mostly “big older men who drink a lot of beer.” Indeed, the BBC film also discusses the Russian perception that English hooligans are a weakening rival. A Russian who goes by Vassily the Killer said it was previously an honor to grapple with a worthy opponent like the English, but their pugnacity has waned along with the rest of Western culture “deep into the garbage bin.”

Furthermore, the Russians spoke of tactics: “It’s very important that you stick together as a group . . . This was a mistake the British were always doing. They were always stranded . . . I can’t say that they lacked the heart, but obviously they lacked the skill.”

The documentary also interviews a hooligan who goes by Denis and is the leader of the Orel Butchers, who bragged about kicking a man’s head like a penalty kick and said, “What I like is that no one thinks: ‘Oh, Russians – drinkers, wankers, lazybones, nothing, stupid …’ We were seeking honor, pride in the fight.”

All of this should be discouraged, which ought to fall under the label of “needless to say,” but here we are, having to say it because a man with a large pulpit is endorsing the exact opposite behavior. Indeed, it is the official position of Vocativ that fan violence is bad and hooliganism should be banned. Just so we’re on record.