Moscow (AFP) – Prison time and a Nazi salute photo are just two of the entries on the resume of Alexander Shprygin, the Russian football fan leader at the centre of controversy over Euro 2016 disturbances.
Fan violence has marred the tournament in France and Russia was warned Tuesday that it faces expulsion from the competition if its supporters are involved in a repeat of stadium violence after the team’s 1-1 draw with England in Marseille.
Shprygin, who heads the Russian supporters association, was among some 30 fans intercepted by French authorities on a bus headed to Russia’s next game in Lille.
Shprygin — who has hung out with top Russian officials including President Vladimir Putin — is notorious for racist statements and his ultranationalist sympathies.
He told Russian media last year that he wanted to see “Slavic faces” on the Russian squad and has deplored the presence of “so many foreign footballers” on the French team, the squad representing “Napoleon’s country.”
A Russian hooligan who identified himself as a 32-year-old CSKA Moscow fan named Denis told AFP that Shprygin would never tell fans to stop fighting because he “understands his authority would be undermined if they don’t obey.”
– Thrash metal ‘extremist’ –
A 2001 picture of Shprygin giving a Nazi salute alongside a topless woman and Pauk (Spider), leader of thrash metal group Korrosiya Metalla, has also stirred controversy surrounding Russia’s official football fan organisation.
Shprygin — who explained to Russian news site Sports.ru last year that the snapshot was a “drunk picture” and that his gesture did not constitute a fascist salute — has rejected claims he has far-right sympathies.
“I repeat once again: I am not a fascist and not a Nazi,” Shprygin told Sports.ru. He says he is a “patriot.”
His ties with Korrosiya Metalla — whose songs “White Power” and “Skinhead” are on Russia’s list of banned extremist materials — landed him in prison for a year in the early 2000s. He was found guilty over a shady story involving a fight and a mobile phone reported stolen by Pauk.
With the prison term behind him, Shprygin has mingled with Russian sports authorities, football coaches and footballers.
His Instagram account is flooded with pictures of him flanked by Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, Russian national team coach Leonid Slutsky and forward Alexander Kokorin, among others.
Shprygin also appears in photographs and videos of Putin and Mutko laying flowers on the grave of Yegor Sviridov, a Spartak Moscow fan shot dead in a mass fight with men from the Russian Caucasus in December 2010.
Shprygin currently serves as aide to lawmaker Igor Lebedev, deputy chairman of the Russian parliament, who wrote on Twitter on Monday that he did not see “anything wrong” in football fighting.
“I don’t see anything wrong in fans fighting,” Lebedev wrote. “On the contrary, well done guys, keep it up!”
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