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Russia Can Learn From England's Fight Against Soccer Hooliganism, Racism

CSKA Moscow fans during their UEFA Champions League soccer match last month with Manchester City at the Khimki Stadium in Moscow. CSKA was sanctioned after the match because some of their supporters directed "monkey chants" against black players from the opposing team.
Thirty years ago, England had a reputation around the world for soccer hooliganism, which was often called the "English disease."

England has made huge strides in stamping out crowd violence and racial abuse in the sport since then. And now, while Russia struggles to contain hooliganism and racism as it prepares to host the 2018 World Cup, the English approach has emerged as a possible example to follow.

It took a massive and united effort by the police, sports authorities, the courts, soccer clubs, players, and supporters to clean up English soccer.

Stadiums were reconfigured to improve crowd control. Policing became tighter and more sophisticated.

And stronger measures were taken against those who broke the law.

Fans convicted of public disorder offences, for example, can be barred from attending home games and prevented from following their team when it plays abroad.

Zero tolerance when it comes to racism has also been introduced. Abusers can be handed lifetime bans from stadiums and face legal prosecution.

According to Piara Powar, executive director of Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), an antidiscrimination network based in London, tougher security measures are only a short-term fix.

He believes the most important factor in England was education and community engagement.

"What we do know is that simply being repressive and passing laws is never good enough," he says. "One has to educate and engage these fan groups and perhaps put forward active, well-funded fan projects that are working with those that are the biggest offenders."

In England, scores of community-based antiracism charities and organizations have been established. These organizations are funded by the sport's authorities and involve the participation of soccer clubs and players past and present. Over time they have managed to change attitudes.

The 'English Disease': How Much Do You Know About Hooliganism?

The 'English Disease': How Much Do You Know About Hooliganism?

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Russia, in an effort to prevent hooliganism and racism from disrupting matches that will be played across the country during the World Cup, used English laws as a template for antihooligan legislation passed in June.

Under the so-called Fan Law, which will come into effect in January, fines for public disorder offences by soccer fans in Russia will increase to 15,000 rubles ($460). Convicted hooligans will also have to perform up to 160 hours of community service and face bans of up to seven years from stadiums.

Moreover, Russian police are obliged to create a blacklist of unruly fans, and soccer clubs are required to install video surveillance systems to identify culprits.

But the laws, which are not as extensive as those in England, were not in place when Russian soccer came under fire last month.

On October 30, UEFA, European soccer's governing body, sanctioned Russia's CSKA Moscow after England's Manchester City complained that its players had been subjected to "monkey chants" during their Champions League match at Khimki Arena on October 23.

UEFA's punishment will see CSKA play its next home match in Europe's premier club tournament in a partly closed ground.

The incident sparked an outcry in England, where black players criticized UEFA's punishment and urged the body to ban CSKA from European competitions.

'State Of Denial'

For its part, CSKA has remained insistent that reports of racial abuse toward Manchester City's players were exaggerated and that their punishment by UEFA was an overreaction.

Ged Grebby, chief executive of Show Racism the Red Card, an antiracism educational charity based in Britain, says Russian authorities are still in a state of denial over soccer hooliganism and racism.

He believes Russia has only imposed tougher laws to deflect mounting pressure from the international soccer community.

Grebby says it might take a significant ban against Russia, including the country being stripped of the World Cup, to hammer home the message to authorities.

There are growing concerns over the safety of foreign visitors to Russia for the World Cup, and the culture of racism associated with Russian soccer has led black players from across Europe to call for a boycott of the competition when it is held there in 2018.

"One of the features of these countries, with Russia being a case in point, is they pretend it doesn't happen and pretend they don't have a problem," says Grebby. "It could take a substantial ban [to bring change]. We've all seen the stats in Russia and I don't think there's many black people and players from Britain or anywhere else from Europe who want to travel to Russia for the World Cup if they have to put their lives on the line."

In England, the turning point was the Heysel Staidum disaster in Belgium in 1985. The stadium was the host of the European Cup final between England's Liverpool and Italy's Juventus.

Thirty-nine Juventus fans died and more than 600 were injured when a large group of Liverpool fans stampeded toward rival fans. A retaining wall separating the two sets of fans collapsed under the pressure and many Juventus fans were crushed or trampled as they tried to escape.

The incident led to an unprecedented ban against all English teams, which were barred from European competition for five years.
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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan covers Afghanistan and Pakistan, with a focus on politics, the Taliban insurgency, and human rights. He has reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2011, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.