Hurled insults, hooliganism and the occasional bloodied head is certainly nothing new at a soccer match—in fact, fighting in the bleachers is practically a game requirement. But a recent bout of particularly violent conflicts between Russian and English football fans at the Euro 2016 championship in France has crossed the line from somewhat scary to downright dangerous. Authorities, desperate to quash the fighting, are placing the blame on alcohol.
The French government (in particular Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve) is urging cities hosting the Euro 2016 games to ban booze near venues and fan zones for 48 hours before games. The proposed ban also specifies that bars and restaurants should not serve drinks on terraces in containers that could ultimately be used as weapons.
Fights between fans and the police had been escalating in Marseilles before the Russia-England game on Saturday and came to a breaking point after the 1-1 draw when Russian fans began firing flares and busting through barriers meant to keep opposing sides separate. A number of Russian supporters were seen kicking and punching English fans as they struggled to climb over fencing to escape. The incident left 35 people injured and three in serious condition.
In response, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) threatened to kick both teams out of the tournament if the violence continues and will be determining any sanctions against Russia at a disciplinary hearing this Tuesday. Russia is divided in its reaction to the potential sanctions. Sports minister Vitaly Mutko has expressed his support, saying that UEFA did the “right thing.” On the other side, Igor Lebedev, an executive committee member of the Russian Football Union and deputy chairman of the national parliament, condoned the violence and told fans to “keep it up” on Twitter.
Comments like Lebedev’s have led some to conclude that alcohol isn’t the culprit at all. Kevin Miles of the Football Supporters’ Federation believes a ban won’t curb the violence.
“The Russians and the locals here who have been attacking football fans have been stone cold sober," Miles said, according to the BBC. “They don’t drink, they are consciously focused, they train for six months, preparing for acts of hooliganism and violence like this. They’re not drunk, that’s not what’s caused the violence here.”
The good news is not all Euro 2016 fans appear to be prone to violence—even when inebriated. A recent report from The Independent painted a picture of genial relations between Republic of Ireland and Sweden supporters in bars near the Stade de France in Saint-Denis where the two teams recently faced off. ”We get totally drunk and we never fight with anyone,” one Irish fan told the paper. Which leads us to take the potentially dicey stance that more people should model their drinking behavior on the Irish.