Russian football thug posts GoPro footage of violent attacks on English fansIBTimes UK

Following clashes between English and Russian fans in Marseille, Uefa has acted immediately, handing Russia a fine and a suspended disqualification from Euro 2016. Uefa has also deported several Russian fans as a result of the trouble in the stadium, and has threatened to disqualify both teams if the problems persist.

In the circumstances, one might have expected Russia's football authorities to strike a reflective tone. Yet Vitaly Mutko, the nation's sports minister, first commented that "everything is fine here". Later, when presented with evidence, he admitted that there were significant disturbances, but that they have nothing to do with Russia's suitability to host the World Cup.

Though Mutko's initial reaction represents a worrying level of denial, that was nothing compared to the response of Igor Lebedev. Lebedev, the deputy chairman of the Russian Parliament, remarked that "the lads defended the honour of their country and did not let English fans desecrate our motherland. We should forgive and understand our fans".

Needless to say, hooliganism should be dealt with swiftly and severely, and we have already seen one English supporter issued with a substantial travel ban for his part in the fighting in Marseille, with several others awaiting trial.

Another great concern is Russia's complacency in the face of a well-drilled group of hooligans, who have taken to their violence with a notable level of professionalism. It is one thing to stop a horde of boorish troublemakers, quite another to resist those who may be "boxers, or into mixed martial arts."

The catalysts of the worst trouble in France appear to have been a relatively small band of young Russian men – around 150 – and so it may be reassuring at some level that their numbers were not more significant. Yet their actions have worrying implications for the World Cup in 2018, where groups of Ultras may not face the same level of travel restrictions that they have experienced here.

The charge sheet against Russia was also a notable one. Among other things, there were allegations of racist behaviour, which may give pause to supporters from ethnic minorities who are considering a trip to Russia in 2018.

The Kremlin, which has condemned the behaviour of these hooligans, may hope that there is a precedent to be drawn from the last European Championship. That tournament, hosted jointly by Poland and Ukraine in 2012, was surrounded by fears that black and Asian fans would suffer discrimination and assault, yet the authorities emerged with credit and those who travelled to games did not have the terrifying experience that many predicted. Perhaps, they may argue, the hackles raised by the media are merely an exaggeration of an easily solved problem.

Perhaps. But maybe the truth is more unpleasant: maybe the hooligans have offered us a disconcerting taste of what may be to come in 2018, when they are on home turf and presumably even more confident than they were in Marseille. They have already benefited from either the indifference or belligerence of two of their game's most senior officials, men speaking careless words that have enabled them.

One hopes that the same pride that drove Russia to host this tournament will encourage its authorities to deal with the threat its hooligans currently represent. If not, then the Ultras' actions in France were only a trailer. At the World Cup, we may grimly await the feature film.


Musa Okwonga is a poet and journalist based in Berlin. He is the author of two books about football, A Cultured Left Foot and Will You Manage?, the first of which was nominated for the 2008 William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award. He has just published "Eating Roses for Dinner", a collection to mark his first ten years as a poet.