Officers with shields and body armour are common place at soccer events in eastern Europe. (Reuters: Tatyana Makeyeva)
Any Australian fans who behave badly at the World Cup in Russia next month need to be prepared to face tough punishments, according to the UK’s top soccer police officer.
- Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts says security around stadiums will be “off the scale”
- “A very large presence of police with shields [at games] is the norm in Russia,” he says
- Fears of clashes were first raised following violence between Russian and England supporters at the Euro 2016
Gold Commander Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts, who is in charge of trying to keep English supporters safe at the tournament, said security around stadiums on match days will be “off the scale” with “thousands of officers in riot gear, supported by the army”.
He warned ticket scalpers could be fined up to $37,000, disorderly conduct could lead to 15 days behind bars, assaulting a police officer carries the risk of a 10-year prison sentence and “mass disorder”, such as rioting, could see people jailed for between eight and 15 years.
“You wouldn’t want to be in a Russian prison, described as a football hooligan,” Deputy Chief Constable Roberts told the ABC.
“A very large presence of police with shields [at games] is the norm in Russia … and parts of eastern Europe.
“Fans need to be prepared for that and to be respectful.”
He also warned supporters that waving flags, drinking heavily and singly loudly in public away from stadiums could be taken “the wrong way” by authorities and locals.
Deputy Chief Constable Roberts says supporters behaving loudly could attract negative attention. (AAP: Julian Smith)
Instances of “provocative behaviour”, like comments or actions referring to Russia’s military past, were likely to be viewed very dimly, Deputy Chief Constable Roberts added.
Fears of clashes at the World Cup were first raised when some Russian football hooligans went on a rampage at the European Championships in France in 2016.
Russian supporters scuffle with England supporters as the England fans leave a pub in Lille during Euro 2016. (Reuters: Wolfgang Rattay)
They were heightened in March as the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England led to tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions around the world, including between Canberra and Moscow.
Deputy Chief Constable Roberts conceded he was “aware of the political circumstances” but urged media outlets to report on the threat of violence “responsibly”.
He said he was very confident the Kremlin would use its considerable “state security apparatus” to ensure the event was not marred by violence or disorder.
“If I believed everything in the English tabloids I’d believe a B-52 bomber was on the moon,” he said.
“Authorities want a good World Cup that showcases Russia and gives it some good publicity.
“Scare stories [such as clashes between fans] on their own are not helpful … but they really do also start to effect the psyche of the local law enforcement.”
Fans are being warned that security presence will be heightened at the stadiums and surrounding areas. (Reuters: Maxim Shemetov)