Changsha, May 18: A top organiser of Russia`s World Cup dismissed the threat of hooliganism as “overblown” and “fake” on Thursday despite concerns after Russian fans went on the rampage at Euro 2016.
Alexander Djordjadze, deputy CEO of the Russia 2018 organising committee, gave assurances that fans would be safe at next year`s tournament and blamed negative media coverage for stirring up controversy.
Since well-prepared Russian hooligans struck at Euro 2016 in France, one Russian legislator has called for hooliganism to be made legal and turned into a spectator sport.
A British documentary also filmed a leading Russian hooligan warning fans to expect a “festival of violence” next year, when Russia hosts the World Cup for the first time.
But Djordjadze, speaking at the World Football Forum in Changsha, China, said hooliganism was “not a problem” for the World Cup.
“We don`t see any problems with the hooligans. Hooliganism is more endemic for the club football,” Djordjadze told AFP.
“The World Cup and Confederations Cup have slightly different population groups coming so we don`t see hooliganism as a security threat.
“The security threat comes from terrorism nowadays — but hooliganism is not a problem.”
Djordjadze said South Africa and Brazil, the two last World Cup hosts in 2010 and 2014, also faced questions over security but ultimately hosted successful World Cups.
“Of course it`s overblown,” he said, when asked about the threat of fan violence. “It`s overblown by press in certain countries.
“Honestly it`s such a miniscule issue compared to preparations for the World Cup. But the World Cup will be very secure, so we encourage fans to come.”
He added: “It will be great if people follow their instincts and come to the World Cup, and not listen to sometimes fake and sometimes overblown news.”
Despite playing down the danger of hooliganism, Djordjadze said the security presence would be high in World Cup host cities, and that Russia would make sure known offenders cannot enter stadiums.
“Measures are taken by our security agencies. They know the people who are on the hooligans` list. They are forbidden to come to the stadiums, similar to the UK practices. So we don`t see it`s a problem,” he said.
“In general security will be on a very high level considering the recent experience in the past years,” added Djordjadze. “But it will not impede the positive fan experience. You will not see (these) people in the arenas.”
Djordjadze added that preparations for the World Cup were on track, with all stadiums expected to be completed this year and ticket sales starting in November.
The tournament will be played between June 14 and July 15 next year, across 11 Russian cities. Russia is also hosting the Confederations Cup, the traditional warm-up tournament, next month.