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The New Contact Sport: Legalized Fan Fights

22 Mar, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Politician Wants to Turn Fights Between Fans in the Stands into Profit, Claiming It Could Curb Problems with Sports-Related Fan Violence

Group fighting hasn’t really been a team sport since, oh, perhaps the days of Christians and lions, but leave it to an entrepreneur to bring it back.

A suggestion by a (no kidding) controversial politician from Russia would turn hooliganism (dictionary definition: fans fighting one another during soccer games) into a spectator sport.

Making violence in the stands profitable? You read it here first.

According to an article in Inside The Games, Russian politico Igor Lebedev has proposed legalizing hooliganism and turning it into a sport in a bid to curb the country's problems with soccer-related violence.

The article notes, “Lebedev, who congratulated Russian fans for their violent attacks on England supporters in Marseille during last year's European Championships in France, has outlined a series of rules in his bizarre plans. The Russian Football Union (RFU) board member claims organized brawls among football fans "could turn fans' aggression in a peaceful direction.”

Under his proposals, designed under what he describes as "draka", the Russian word for fight, 20 unarmed fans would line each side of an arena. It would involve a "meeting at a stadium at a set time" and would be watched by thousands.

"Russia would be a pioneer in a new sport,” said Lebedev in a statement on the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia website.

While the popularity of combat sports is nothing new (MMA in particular is gaining ground at a record pace), the prospect of amateurs going head-to-head with one another over nothing more than bragging rights for their sports team could make sports business attorneys queasy. Of course, offsetting this is the prospect of profits; with live-streaming of sports multiplying exponentially, there’s always the concept that someone, somewhere, would find a way to make money off the antics of disgruntled fans.

Plus, there’s the potential for commercial and sponsorship money to be considered – including alcohol, medical supplies, insurance and more.

The threat of violence in the stands at the 2018 World Cup has been prominent in the build-up to the competition following numerous clashes between rival supporters during the 2016 European Championships. (And it’s not without precedent that someone would get hurt; the violent scenes between Russian and England supporters left one England fan, Andrew Bache, in a coma after he was attacked by aggressive fans armed with with iron bars at a match held in France.)

As a USA TODAY article noted, "Officials from three national soccer federations contacted by USA TODAY Sports this week said hooliganism will likely cause them to take special measures including receiving government advice during the tournament next summer. The officials requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. And if their nation was to face Russia after the draw is announced this year? "It would be a logistical headache of epic proportions," one official said. "No one missed (noticing) what happened last summer."

All told, the article added, "Russia appears woefully unprepared for the World Cup. As the tournament nears, the messages from Russia’s political and sports hierarchy are far from positive."

The Inside The Games article also noted,

A BBC documentary also raised further concerns as footage was shown of Russians being trained as combat fighters to ensure they were in the best possible condition. One Russian fan said there was a "100 percent" guarantee of trouble at the World Cup in Russia in 2018 during the program. The film also showed Russian groups conducting pre-arranged fights, including trials seeking recruits for hooligan firms, in remote locations across the country.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov played down concerns, claiming the hooligans would not be permitted into World Cup stadiums. This is in direct contrast to Lebedev, who tweeted, "Well done, lads, keep it up" in reference to Russian fans' attacks on England supporters.

Of course, it was also Lebedev who told fans not to be concerned about any possible outbreak of violence at next year's World Cup, insisting “not a single tourist has any reason to fear travelling to our country in the summer of 2018.”

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