Russia will host the FIFA World Cup next summer
While sport is perhaps one of the greatest unifying creations in global culture, fringe elements have seen countless acts of racism leaving stains on its reputation.
To respond to hooliganism within English supporters, the FA has issued the first lifetime bans to members of the official England Supporters Travel Club.
After decades of drunken fans causing problems in cities all over Europe, the straw that broke the camel’s back was a friendly game between England and Germany last March, at which England supporters booed the German national anthem, stretched out their arms to mimic RAF bombers, and spent the entire game singing songs about the two World Wars.
There were even reports of some English fans making Nazi salutes, imitating Adolf Hitler, and also intimidating their German counterparts with throat-slitting hand gestures.
Russia, gearing up to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup, takes a much harder line on aggressive behaviour than the English FA, which ultimately informed the offending fans they had been banned via email.
At the same time, Russia also denies that hooliganism is a problem, with an anti-racism inspector recently saying that racism does not exist in the Federation. When English and Russian fans clashed at the Euro 2016 tournament in France, Vladimir Putin – after initially condemning the fracas – then quipped: “I don’t know how 200 Russian fans could beat several thousand of the British...”
Regardless, under increasing international scrutiny, the Russian President has brought in legislation that doubles fines levied against aggressive fans, as well as introducing new seven-year stadium bans. And then there’s the robot.
It appears that Russia has created an automaton designed to handle dangerous situations by calming down hooligans with gentle conversation while simultaneously contacting the authorities.
“Citizens who have committed gross legal violations during sporting events, demonstrated racism, set off fireworks, broken furniture, tried to start fights, are under out unwinking, constant stare,” said Anton Gusev, the Russian official overseeing security at sporting venues ahead of the forthcoming Confederations Cup.
“This also pertains to foreign soccer hooligans,” he added.
According to a New York Times report, Russian authorities have been closing the net on radical sporting fans for months, launching a series of searches and arrests, advising potential threats that they are under surveillance.
Putin’s cabinet has also introduced strict rules governing the number of people that can gather in public places to clamp down on any unrest. The rules apply for the Confederations Cup, which kicks off on June 17th, as well as next summer’s World Cup.
That the rules were introduced immediately, before opposition leader Aleksei Navalny’s proposed anti-Putin rallies on June 12th, was not lost on any observers.