Foreign fans who plan on attending sporting events in Russia, including next summer’s World Cup, would be wise to be on their best behavior. On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a series of amendments that call for 15-day prison sentences, deportation and country reentry bans for fans that behave with “gross misconduct.”
Previously, it appears the law only called for misbehaving foreign fans to pay fines.
To land in Russian prison, though, fans will have to engage in “gross misconduct,” which the new amendments define as anything that threatens another’s security, or anything that results in a delay or termination of the competition.
Russia has dealt with plenty of this in the past, although most often it’s been committed by Russian fans.
Just last month, fans of two Russian teams — CSKA Moscow and Zenit brawled in the stands — during a first-league match. Despite a physical barrier dividing the home and away sections, fans breached the fence after which they proceeded to attack each other, at times propelling smoke bombs and other debris in the other’s direction.
Violence has also been an issue for Russian fans abroad. During the European championships last summer, European soccer governing body, UEFA nearly booted the country from the tournament after some 200 Russian fans, whom French prosecutors described as “hyperviolent” and “extremely well trained,” allegedly brawled with large numbers of British fans during the teams’ 1-1 draw in Marseille, France.
Putin, while remaining skeptical that Russian fans incited the violence, denounced the fans’ bad behavior, but more so because their behavior created so much news.
“I regret seeing that people pay such importance to fan fights,” he said while speaking at a conference in St. Petersburg, last June (via ESPN FC).
He added: “The way we treat the violators has to be the same. They all have to be equally treated.”
Putin’s words now, however, don’t appear to be matching his actions. While both Russians and foreigners caught behaving badly could face 15-day prison sentences, as well as heavy fines, only foreign fans could face lifetime bans should they be deported and not allowed back into the country. Russian violators, meanwhile, could face their own stadium bans for misconduct, but under the law the maximum ban length is seven years.
Important to note, the amendments Putin signed Monday do not specifically call out racist acts, which have dogged European soccer, especially in Eastern Europe and Russia, in recent years.
Last September, UEFA ordered a section of the soccer stadium where FC Rostov plays closed after fans allegedly taunted their Dutch opponents FC Ajax with racist behavior. The partial stadium ban, which closed off roughly 1,500 seats of the 45,000-seat venue appeared to do little to deter the bad behavior. When another Dutch team, PSV Eindhoven, visited later that month, a fan threw a banana at one of the team’s black players. The anonymous fan, as well as the team, escaped sanctions after that incident.
To combat this issue, Russia recently appointed an “anti-racism inspector” ahead of the World Cup, whose task is to ensure discrimination is kept at a minimum during the tournament next year. While on the surface this might seem like a noble idea, it might prove inconsequential in practice as the man chosen for the job, ex-Chelsea midfielder Alexei Smertin, once denied there was even a problem.
“There’s no racism in Russia,” he told the BBC in 2015. “Because it does not exist.”