UEFA threaten Russia, England disqualification over fan clashes

Paris (AFP) – UEFA on Sunday threatened to kick Russia and England out of the European Championship finals over fan violence but admitted there were stadium security flaws.

German hooligans became the latest to join street battles that have marred Euro 2016. The French government gave police chiefs new powers to ban alcohol sales and consumption around stadiums.

The UEFA warning followed three days of violence in Marseille involving Russian and English fans, culminating in incidents inside the Stade Velodrome after Saturday’s 1-1 draw between the countries.

Thirty-five people were injured in the worst violence at an international tournament since the 1998 World Cup in France. Three remained in serious condition.

With more high-risk matches looming, the UEFA executive committee made a public “warning” to the two countries and expressed “disgust” at the clashes.

UEFA has laid charges against Russia, accusing their fans of crowd disturbances, racist behaviour and throwing “fireworks” and “missiles” in the Marseille stadium.

A decision on sanctions is to be announced Tuesday.  

The UEFA executive committee also said “it will not hesitate to impose additional sanctions” on England and Russia, “including the potential disqualification of their respective teams from the tournament, should such violence occur again”.

– ‘Shameful’ –

World body FIFA also condemned what it called the “shameful scenes” between “idiotic troublemakers”.

The European body did say that security has to be improved however.

“There were segregation issues at Stade Velodrome and (UEFA) will implement corrective measures to strengthen the deployment of security personnel at stadiums.”

The French government gave police chiefs powers to ban alcohol sales and consumption from the day before matches near the 10 stadiums and fan zones being used for the month-long, 24-nation tournament.

But there were new incidents Sunday:

— German football fans clashed with Ukrainian supporters ahead of their Group C game in Lille. More than 50 known German hooligans were involved in the fighting, according to a German police source quoted by the SID sports news agency. German police said they also arrested 21 known troublemakers trying to get to Lille.

— In Paris, about 50 French youths dressed in black taunted Croatian supporters and the two sides threw missiles and fireworks at each other before police moved in.

– Euro alert –

French authorities are now on red alert for Russia’s next game in Lille on Wednesday against Slovakia.

England’s next Group B game against Wales in nearby Lens on Thursday has already been classed as a high-risk game by the French authorities.

The British government said it was “deeply concerned” by the Marseille violence and offered to send more police to France.

It was looking into “reports that in some cases England fans were attacked by rival supporters”, a spokesman said.

Russia’s Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said his country’s fans “behaved improperly” and predicted UEFA would impose a fine this week. He laid the blame on match organisers for failing to separate supporters.

England fans said Russian rivals lit flares toward the end of the game and the crossed barriers intended to separate the two groups.

In the two days before the game, hundreds of fans who has been drinking heavily pelted each other with cafe chairs, bottles and stones in the Vieux-Port area of Marseille. Witnesses said French youths were also involved.

More than 1,200 riot police fought to control the crowd with tear gas. Ten people, including Russian, British, French, German and Austrian nationals were arrested.

English fans said the clashes in Marseille also appeared organised by Russian groups.

“There were about 100 Russians. They just came out of nowhere, something was thrown and that started it all off,” said one England supporter, who asked not to be named.

The scenes in Marseille were reminiscent of incidents in the same city during the 1998 World Cup, when English and Tunisian fans were involved in a mass brawl.

In Nice, where Poland beat Northern Ireland on Sunday, Irish fans were drawn into fights with local youths and seven people were hurt, police said.

The violence has marred the start of the tournament after the buildup was overshadowed by months of industrial unrest and fears of jihadist attacks.

The strikes in protest at the government’s labour market reforms are set to go on this week. Action by a quarter of Air France’s pilots will ground 20 percent of flights on Monday, the airline said.

The strike is to continue until Tuesday, when unions have organised nationwide rallies to protest government labour reforms.

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