Russian football fans divided over new law regulating stadium behaviour

The “Law on Sports Fans” has divided Russian society. Source: Itar-Tass

The “Law on Sports Fans” has divided Russian society. Source: Itar-Tass

Football fans and society is largely divided over a new law that regulates fan behaviour at sports stadiums. Some football fans believe that the new policies will result in new conflicts in stadiums.

This summer President Vladimir Putin signed a law which increased the penalty for fans who disturb the public order to $461, determined that they must do up to 160 hours of community service, and banned them from attending matches for up to 7 years. The police were ordered to create a “black list” of unruly fans and stadium owners were instructed to install video surveillance systems.

The legal act, called the “Law on Sports Fans,” has divided Russian society into three groups. One believes that the new legislative measures will ensure tranquility on sports bleachers. The second considers this as just another move by the authorities to tighten the screws. And the last group worries that such repressive policies will result in new conflicts in the stadiums.

The most recent fan scandal broke out in St Petersburg. On September 14 during the match with the Grozny Terek team, Zenith fans burned the flag of Chechnya. A video of this vandalism was uploaded on Youtube and all of Europe was talking about it the next day. Zenith had to pay a steep fine and FIFA and UEFA officials once again noted the disgraceful behaviour of Russian fans.    

However, this story is too complicated for one-sided judgements. “The burning of the Chechen flag was in response to provocation by Anzhi fans,” says Zenith fan Edward Serzhan, a journalism professor. “Two years ago, fans from Makhachkala hung the Ichkerian flag in the stadium in St Petersburg (Ichkeria is an unrecognized state formation that existed after the collapse of the USSR on segments of the territory of Chechnya, Daghestan and Ingushetia, the apparatus of which Russian state authorities have placed on its list of terrorist organizations.) Officials did not give a response to the incident at that time, but fans turned out on social networking sites en force. In Russia people are accustomed to respond to provocations with a provocation. 

“The flag-burning episode does not mean there is violence on our arena bleachers,” notes Serzhan. “Fanatics’ levels of aggression match the aggression level of our society. It is a powerful social structure through which the political mood manifests.” 

Many fans of Moscow clubs and of the St Petersburg club Zenith may be called nationalists. Radical right-wing ideas are always popular among them. The last outbreak of activity by the radical elements was their collision with law enforcement in the center of Moscow on Manezh Square in December 2010. Then, about 2,000 football fans eloquently expressed their position after the murder of Spartacus fan Egor Sviridov by arrivals from the Caucasus; the fans shouted nationalist slogans and burned flares. Many of their faces were covered in medical masks. Hundreds of fans were arrested after three hours of fierce battles with the police.     

Evgeny Selemenev, a 20-year fan of Spartak Moscow thinks that the promulgation of the “Law on Sports Fans” will not make Russian stadiums more secure. “Random people very often fall under the arm of the police at matches. On the other hand, all stadiums should be equipped with video cameras and those, for example, who burn flares should be visible on the recordings. The police just grab whoever is nearby and blame them saying ‘you reek of alcohol.’”  Once they arrested me because I stood in the front row and smiled. They claimed I was smiling defiantly.”   

In Edward Serzhan’s opinion, new infrastructure for the World Championship and the confidence and trust of club leaders in their fans will help to remedy the current situation. “If good football stadiums are built in Russia, then normal fans and families will want to visit the bleachers. Clubs must also carry out correct marketing policies like contests and social initiatives. As a good example, the Camaroonian defender for the Anzhi team, Benoit Angbwa, recently taught a geography class in a regular Makhachkala school. Club leaders must build up a dialogue with fans. For instance, Zenith fans understand that they should never set off flares in the stadium during League Championship matches because this brings the club losses in the form of fines. If anyone among the fans lights a firework then other fans will take it from him and put it out. This is the result of work with the fans.” 

Sergei Altukhin, a fan of Kuban - the club with the highest attendance in Russia in 2012 (average attendance is 21,000) – believes that the restrictions will only make the fanatics more inventive. “A complete ban on fireworks is not the most logical solution to the problem: matches lose their colorfulness. It is much more important to establish cooperation between club security services and the police. We often create a great banner and get the approval of club management but then it gets confiscated at the entrance.”  

Dan Darby, an English fan who roots for all of the Russian clubs in European competitions considers Russian fanatics to be no different from those in other countries and thinks they behave perfectly well. “Russian fans are really nice people. They support their teams well and cheer for football with all their heart. I don’t understand why they are trying to paint them in a bad light and characterize them in a certain way. Believe me; fans from England are much more aggressive than Russian ones.”

The Security Director for the Russian Football League, Alexander Meytin, sees only positives in the new law. “The appearance of the ‘Law on Sports Fans’ was dictated by the reality of life itself. At least the responsibilities of both parties - those who watch and those in charge of their security - are clearly defined thanks to it. The police will start securing the territory adjacent to the stadium and stewards will watch after fan behaviour. I do not exclude the possibility that other countries may find it necessary to learn from our experience.”    

We must add that new amendments to the “Law on Sports Fans” could be added in the near future. One of the most important changes might be that Russian fans will have to buy tickets with their passports (internal). In the opinion of officials, such a rule will make information available on every football fan, which in turn will make it possible to clamp down more effectively on those who interfere with true football lovers’ enjoyment of the game. No such law exists in any other country yet.    

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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