‘If there is a failure, it is that of soccer, which is sick because some of its fans drink excessively and fight’
European soccer's governing body, UEFA, launched disciplinary proceedings against the Russian Football Union on Sunday after violence marred the end of Russia's Euro 2016 match against England in Marseille on Saturday evening.
Moments after the final whistle in the Stade Velodrome, masked Russian supporters charged at England fans, punching and kicking them. Some England fans had to scramble over barriers to escape.
UEFA said that it will also investigate allegations of racist behaviour, the throwing of missiles and fireworks.
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, who had initially denied that there had been any crowd disturbance, said that UEFA was right to investigate.
The violence in the stadium followed three days of ugly skirmishes between English, Russian and French fans in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille, drawing a strong response from riot police.
A statement from UEFA said the body was ‘disgusted’ by the clashes that occurred in the Marseille city centre and expressed its serious concern over the incidents inside Stade Velodrome.
"This kind of behaviour is totally unacceptable and has no place in football," UEFA said, adding that a decision on sanctions would be made within days.
It is the second time in as many European Championship tournaments that the Russian federation has faced sanctions because of its fans. It was fined and given a suspended six-point deduction for its Euro 2016 qualifying campaign after fans assaulted stadium security staff and displayed illicit banners at the 2012 tournament in Poland and Ukraine.
Sanctions can include fines, being forced to play matches behind closed doors and even disqualification.
Fan violence spread to a second French city, Nice, where Northern Irish and local fans hurled glass bottles and chairs at each other late on Saturday.
The French government rallied behind the police amid questions over tactics and security inside the stadiums.
"If there is a failure, it is that of soccer, which is sick because some of its fans drink excessively and fight," Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henri Brandet said on BFM-TV.
A UEFA spokesman said more security personnel would be deployed to segregate rival fans inside stadiums, particularly at high-risk matches such as Sunday's Turkey-Croatia fixture in Paris.
Though UEFA can only launch disciplinary proceedings relating to areas under its control, the spokesman said that the body's executive committee would discuss how to react to the three days of violence in Marseille.
In 2000 UEFA threatened to kick England out of tournament after violence broke out between English and German fans in the Belgian city of Charleroi.
Russian Sports Minister Mukto backed UEFA's actions.
"It's the right thing, there were flares, there was a flare gun, there have been clashes in the stands and it's necessary to sort all of this out," R-Sport news agency cited the minister as saying.
"The fans were rooting brilliantly for the team, but there are people who do not come for the football."
In Marseille, some English fans suggested that French riot police had been heavy handed and quick to fire tear gas. Thirty-five people were hurt in the fighting, including one English fan who suffered a heart attack.
Marseille police chief Laurent Nunez told France Info radio that his force's response prevented "much more serious damage". A total of 15 people, mostly English, were arrested in the city over three days.
While the tournament is being played under a state of emergency after Islamist militants attacked Paris in November, killing 130 people, French police will be under pressure to snuff out the fan violence.
"French police forces are not trained to deal with hooliganism," Driss Ait Youssef, a security expert, told BFM-TV. "You never know where a fight will erupt, so the challenge is to redeploy forces in a very short time."
France has enlisted more than 90,000 police, soldiers and private security agents nationwide to ensure safety in the face of intelligence agency warnings of potential militant attacks and the threat of hooliganism.
"We can address both terror threats and fan violence," Marseille police chief Nunez said.