The unbeautiful game

The unbeautiful game

A medieval evil of European football threatens to cast a dark shadow on its most glittering gala

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In this Saturday, June 11, 2016 file photo, spectators try to escape from Russian supporters who went on a charge in the stands right after the Euro 2016 Group B soccer match between England and Russia, at the Velodrome stadium in Marseille, France. (AP Photo)

TIf concerns of racism preceded the previous edition of the Euro, co-hosted by Ukraine and Poland, terror threats had set off fears in the build-up to the ongoing installment of Europe’s most glittering football gala. But a less-organised, more medieval evil of European football has resurfaced in France — hooliganism, which for the most part of the last decade was a largely inconspicuous threat. A week into an otherwise high-quality, thrilling tournament, it has mutated into an ugly monster, trampling the very essence of the beautiful game, making it a podium for extremists fans to showcase their rugby skills in bestially attacking each other, sparking morbid fears among peace-loving spectators.

As the violence escalates and moves from Marseille to Lille, this installment of Euro will in all likelihood be remembered for the toxic violence it spawned in the stands and the streets than the quality of play it has showcased on the manicured turfs. Many will blame the prejudiced police tactics, others the Russian provocation, and some others the forever-intoxicated English fans, and the ultras of Marseille, who hurled smoke bombs at Atletico Bilbao supporters during a UEFA Cup clash. Some will also question why a potentially volatile clash was scheduled in Marseille in the first place. English fans would remember the clash between the locals and their supporters ahead of the opening fixture against Tunisia in the 1998 World Cup.

In skirmishes such as these, the blame can’t be put squarely on one particular group. Everyone, from the UEFA to the French police to the extremists fans and the locals should accept the blame. Heavy sanctions now await Russia and England, but the UEFA too should do a bit of soul searching and accept their shortcomings in not preventing such violence. More importantly, they should now learn some lessons, and not let such violence repeat and tarnish the image of their most prestigious event. It’s a timely reminder for Russia too, as in two years they will host the most grand footballing event on the planet.