Since FIFA awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively, the headaches have not stopped. Surprisingly for FIFA, its Russia that is proving the most worrying to the body’s governing council rather than the oil rich footballing minnows. Reports of stadium building issues, corruption and racism have plagued the country since the announcement. But now the latest concern is the growing rise in fan violence that is threatening to tear the 2018 tournament apart at the seams. In recent weeks, violence in the stands and towards players has escalated turning into a major issue for the Russian Football Federation to tackle.
In a recent match between Dynamo Moscow and reigning champions Zenit St. Petersburg, Dynamo goalkeeper Anton Shunin was blinded in one eye and suffered burns to his face and ear after a firecracker was thrown onto the pitch from the stand. It exploded near the 25-year-old, sending the Russian goalkeeper to the floor in agony. The match was stopped by the referee, Alexei Nikolaev to allow treatment to Shunin but was eventually abandoned as police attempted to apprehend the suspect responsible and control the crowd. A total of 53 Zenit fans were arrested at the ground as the violence increased due to disharmony over the abandonment of the game but officials had no choice but to do so.
Security at games in Russia is generally high with regular inspections of fans entering stadiums to prevent weapons or other objects being brought in. However reports coming from the ground suggest that fans are suspected of smuggling in the firecrackers in question by wrapping them in condoms and inserting them into their bodies. Cleaning crews at the Khimki Arena found numerous torn condoms lying on the floor in stalls in bathrooms across the ground, leading to this assumption. If this reports are indeed true, the lengths that fans are going to evade police detection and continue their disruption tactics are mind-blowing.
Regardless of how they managed it, their actions injured a player on the field in an act deemed by the Russian Prime Minster Dmitry Medvedev as “a premeditated crime”. The Russian League was also quick to condemn the incident:
“Taking into consideration the recent negative tendency of acts of hooliganism by some football fans, which caused dangerous consequences for other supporters and players, the league decided to discuss the case at an extraordinary meeting.”
Unfortunately this type of indicent is not only restricted to the Russian league. Its exists at an issue in several leagues across Europe and in the past few months a few cases of objects being thrown from the stands and injuring players have appeared in the media. In the Premiership, Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand was struck by a coin thrown at him from the stands during an ill-tempered local derby against rivals Manchester City. The game, which United won at the death, thanks to a superb free kick from Robin Van Persie was marred moments after the strike went Rio was hit. As he tried to recover, a City fan ran onto the pitch towards Rio but was fortunately stopped by the 6ft 4in frame of City goalkeeper Joe Hart. His manager Alex Ferguson spoke after the game about the incident and the growing trend that it stems from:
“That shouldn’t happen. The same thing happened at Chelsea, which was masked by all the other things. We could have done without that. We can all do without that, after a great game between two sides”
Back in Russia, Shunin continues to recover from his injuries with doctors confirming that he had indeed suffered from a burn to his cornea in one eye. Shunin should see again with little difficulty but the incident and that of Rio Ferdinand showcases a growing problem in football that needs to be addressed by the sport’s governing bodies before a player is seriously hurt or killed. FIFA is conducting its own investigation into Shunin’s injury ( no word on one for Rio’s) which may eventually lead to further sanctions that Russia will have to enforce if they do not want to lose the World Cup in 2018.
To see the report on Shunin’s injury, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dtXaPHk2eE
To see the report on Ferdinand’s injury, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owrxhzzXSkI