The Chaplain for Sport has condemned proposals from a Russian legislator to legalise football hooliganism and make it a spectator sport.
Igor Lebedev, who sits in the Russian parliament and is a member of the Russian Football Union, came up with the proposals as an unorthodox solution to the country’s problems with football hooliganism ahead of next year’s World Cup.
Organised groups of Russian fans, many with martial arts training, fought English supporters on the streets of Marseille during last year’s European Championship.
That inspired Mr Lebedev to draw up rules for what he calls draka, the Russian word for ‘fight’ – 20 fighters on each side, unarmed, in an arena.
In a statement on the website of the nationalist LDPR party, Mr Lebedev said organised brawls ‘could turn fans’ aggression in a peaceful direction’.
He also claimed it would serve as an ‘example’ for English fans, who he characterised as undisciplined louts and ‘poor fighters’.
‘Russia would be a pioneer in a new sport,’ said Mr Lebedev, who suggested fights between different fan groups could draw crowds of thousands.
‘English fans arrive, for example, and start picking fights. And they get the answer – challenge accepted. A meeting in a stadium at a set time.’
However, Mgr Vladimir Felzmann, Chaplain for Sport and CEO of the John Paul II Foundation for Sport, has condemned the proposals, likening them to calls to legalise cannabis.
“It sounds like legalising cannabis – a slide into a sadder culture,” he told The Universe. “Gladiatorial contest on the side would drag football further down and I suspect fail to tame thugs who are gripped in their vortex of despair whose attempted escape is violence, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – or suicide.”
Some fan groups in Russia already hold illicit fights along similar lines, typically pre-arranged mass brawls in rural locations, away from police.
A Russian Premier League game last Saturday between CSKA Moscow and Zenit St Petersburg was marred by clashes between small groups of rival fans who fought each other and tried to break through a security fence.
Mr Lebedev hailed the violence in Marseille last year, telling Russian fans: “Well done lads, keep it up!”
However, Mgr Felzmann explained that instead of coming up with “absurd suggestions”, Russia would be better off if it tackled the issue of hooliganism properly.
“Russia is in a bad place as a third of current jobs are going to go over the next 15 years, it is claimed. The Government, faith groups and sport would do well to see how best to channel energies into creative and enjoyable lifestyles,” he said. “This absurd suggestion might nudge them into action.”
Mr Lebedev – who among his parliamentary duties acts as deputy speaker – is a long-time associate of football fan leader Alexander Shprygin, who was deported from France last year following the Marseille violence.
Two board members of an organisation run by Shprygin were given prison sentences.
Despite his enthusiasm for football violence, Mr Lebedev insisted Russian policing meant foreign fans would not be in danger at the World Cup.
“We’ve taken all the safety measures, modernised legislation. Not a single tourist has any reason to fear travelling to our country in the summer of 2018.”
This weekend’s Premier League and FA Cup fixtures:
Saturday 11th March
Bournemouth v West Ham United – 3:00pm
Everton v West Bromwich Albion – 3:00pm
Hull City v Swansea City – 3:00pm
Middlesbrough v Manchester City – 12:15pm
Arsenal v Lincoln City – 5:30pm
Sunday 12th March
Liverpool v Burnley – 4:00pm
Tottenham Hotspur v Millwall – 2:00pm
Monday 13th March
Chelsea v Manchester United – 8:00pm
Picture: CSKA Moscow fans attack a Zenit fan during the national championship soccer match between CSKA Moscow and Zenit in Moscow, Russia, 4th March. (Photo: Tikhon Danin/AP/PA).