Robots And Bans On Deck To Tackle Soccer Hooliganism

No, really, there's a talking Russian robot

AFP/Getty Images
Jun 07, 2017 at 1:14 PM ET

The rate at which racist incidents have marred sporting events has shown no sign of slowing, as leagues have struggled to police the awful behavior of fans, but two countries are stepping up their enforcement.

On one hand, the English Football Association issued the first lifetime bans to members of its England Supporters Travel Club. This stemmed from a March friendly in Germany during which fans were, in the words of the Guardian, “booing the German national anthem, outstretching their arms to mimic fighter planes and spending large parts of the night going through a repertoire of songs about the first and second world wars.” Some reportedly made Nazi salutes, slit-throat gestures, and Hitler imitations.

As a result of this behavior, the UK Football Policing Unit investigated and identified 59 participants in the acts, of which 20 were members of the England Supporters Travel Club. Of that subset, 16 received suspensions ranging from six months to five years, while the other four warranted warning letters. Two others were separately singled out for making Nazi gestures, the Guardian wrote, prompting lifetime bans. When emailed warnings about this behavior went out to members, the Telegraph reported that a couple replied to say they thought there was nothing wrong with such actions, which led to their immediate placement on a watch list. Strong repercussions such as this will hopefully serve as a deterrent to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Russia, no surprise, has taken an even harsher stance, even while downplaying the problem. One parliamentary member has even said he wants hooliganism to become a sanctioned sport. Its anti-racism inspector has previously said racism does not exist in Russia, which apparently is in line with FIFA’s thinking. And president Vladimir Putin decried fighting between English and Russian fans at the 2016 Euro Cup in France as a “disgrace,” only to then joke, “I don’t know how 200 Russian fans could beat several thousand of the British.” (Some UK government officials told the Guardian they think some of the Russian hooligans may have been in the “uniformed services” and possibly Kremlin-sanctioned.)

Nevertheless, Putin has signed legislation that doubles the fines for suspended fans subverting that suspension while imposing a fine and seven-year stadium ban for those endangering the safety of themselves or others at matches, per the Moscow Times. With Russia hosting the Confederations Cup that starts in a little more than a week, a stringent ticketing system requires personalized fan IDs and 191 fans have already been blacklisted by the interior ministry, according to Reuters. Foreign fans must also register before arriving to attend the event. Further, there is a Russian robot—no, really—designed to handle hostile situations by diffusing aggression through conversation and contacting authorities.

“Citizens who have committed gross legal violations during sporting events, demonstrated racism, set off fireworks, broken furniture, tried to start fights, are under our unwinking, constant stare,” Anton Gusev, deputy head of the interior ministry department overseeing security at sports venues, told reporters on Tuesday. “This also pertains to foreign soccer hooligans.”

Unwinking, constant stare! Indeed, the New York Times reported in April that Russian authorities have cracked down on hooligans through a series of searches and arrests, with some hooligans noting armed police officers showing up and calls warning their actions are under surveillance.

Furthermore, Putin instituted strict mandates limiting public gatherings and demonstrations for the duration of the Confederations Cup (which begins June 17) and next year’s World Cup—to increase security, the Kremlin said, although it (coincidentally or probably not) also encompasses the June 12 date that opposition leader Aleksei Navalny chose for further rallies opposing Putin.