Russian Football Violence Reinforces Concerns About 2018 World Cup
Published: May 16, 2014 (Issue # 1810)
The Zenit Ultra fan accused of striking Moscow Dynamo defender Vladimir Granat has been identified as Alexander Nesterov, a 45-year-old St. Petersburg resident who denied that he hit the Moscow player.
Merely the latest in a long string of instances of fan-related violence in Russian football, the recent violence at the Zenit-Dynamo game reinforced uncertainties about how stadiums will manage security during the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup, which will be held in 11 cities across Russia.
The Zenit St. Petersburg soccer team has been given a two game stadium ban by the Russian Football Union after fans stormed the field during a game with rivals Dynamo Moscow, one of them attacking Granat and striking him in the back of the head. Granat remained in St. Petersburg for medical care.
Dynamo was leading the match 4-2 in the 87th minute of the game when hardcore Zenit Ultra fans from the club's cheering section stormed the field. In the wake of the attack, the Russian Football Union fined Zenit 1 million rubles ($28,800) and decreed that Zenit would play the first two games of next season in a closed stadium with no fans, adding that the cheering sections where the club's hardcore fans sit would be closed for an additional three games.
Despite promises to increase security, Zenit fans have a reputation for rowdiness, and this in not the first time that they have run amok. In 2012, another Zenit-Dynamo game was disrupted when a Zenit fan threw a flare onto the field, injuring Dynamo goalie Anton Shunin.
Earlier this season, Zenit Ultra fans created controversy for burning a Chechen flag during a game against Terek Grozny, the Chechen football team. Several fans were arrested for hooliganism, and Zenit was fined 300,000 rubles for the inappropriate actions of its fans, a sum which it later managed to recoup from the guilty parties.
However, despite the bad reputation of the Zenit Ultras, the team is by no means alone in having rowdy fans — Russian football as a whole has been plagued by incidents of violence and racism involving football fans, a problem that the Russian Premier League and law enforcement have sought to combat with increased security and alcohol bans.
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