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EURO 2016: COMMENTARY

Hooliganism taints the Beautiful Game again

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Barely moments after Russian defender Vasili Berezutski headed in an injury-time equaliser to deny England what would have been an undeserved victory, scores of fans - those of the hooligan variety - decided to take matters into their own hands.

ENGLAND and Russia managed a scrappy 1-1 draw in their opening Euro 2016 match on Sunday morning (Singapore time), and that's probably a fair result for both countries given the events on and off the pitch.

Barely moments after Russian defender Vasili Berezutski headed in an injury-time equaliser to deny England what would have been an undeserved victory, scores of fans - those of the hooligan variety - decided to take matters into their own hands.

There were ugly scenes at the Velodrome stadium in Marseille after the final whistle as Russian supporters charged at their English counterparts, tearing down flags and hurling projectiles at them.

Some England fans, including women and children, were seen scampering over fences and barricades to flee the venue.

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The situation forced European football's governing body, UEFA, to launch disciplinary proceedings against the Russian Football Union. UEFA also warned that Russia and England could be disqualified if their fans turn violent again.

In the build-up to the match, hundreds of English and Russian fans squared off in Marseille, throwing beer bottles and chairs as French riot police used tear gas to try and contain the violence.

It was three straight days of disorder in Marseille and there is little indication that the organisers and security officials have what it takes to deal with the hooliganism.

France remains in a prolonged state of emergency following the suicide attacks in Paris just seven months ago, and Euro 2016 - the largest sporting event in the continent - is widely seen as a prime target for a fresh round of attacks.

The fears of a terrorist attack, ongoing labour unrest and massive flooding have marred the build-up to France's hosting of Euro 2016.

Dealing with mobs of organised hooligans is probably the last thing that organisers needed at this stage, but they can't say they were completely unprepared for it.

France has had six years to plan for the tournament, and the fact that violence could break out in what was supposed to be a secure stadium raises big question marks about the country's level of preparation and the ability to guarantee a safe environment for all.

Amid the chaos, it was easy to forget that a football match had just taken place. England, one of the tournament favourites, were just seconds away from winning their first opening game of the European Championships in 36 years.

Leading 1-0 from midfielder Eric Dier's powerful 73rd-minute free kick, the Three Lions - often labelled as "chokers" for their failures at major football tournaments - crumbled deep into stoppage time thanks to Berezutski's header.

England's 68-year-old manager Roy Hodgson buried his face in his hands. Many of the 40,000 England fans in the stands did likewise.

The Russian players celebrated like they had already won the trophy, such was their relief at snatching a point despite a poor performance.

However, this was a day that will be remembered for everything but the football. There are still over 40 matches - including at least four involving either England or Russia - that will be played across France in the next four weeks, and the authorities must prevent a repeat of Sunday's disgusting scenes that threaten to taint the sport yet again.

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