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‘A shot in the back’ Hundreds of CSKA Moscow fans arrested over pyrotechnics at Sunday’s soccer match against Zenit St. Petersburg

Source: Meduza
Sergey Fadeichev / TASS

During a home game on Sunday, November 28, CSKA Moscow fans set off pyrotechnics inside the VEB Arena after their team suffered a 2–0 loss to Zenit St. Petersburg. Upon discovering that the stadium’s surveillance cameras were down, Moscow police kept spectators in the stands for three hours, while carrying out hundreds of arrests. On Monday morning, the police reported that they had detained 408 soccer fans in total and filed 51 administrative offense protocols. In response, the Russian Premier League decried the actions of the police, but CSKA Moscow drew even more backlash by condemning fans for committing “unlawful acts.” Meanwhile, State Duma lawmakers have seized upon the incident to argue in favor of introducing a “Fan ID” system for sporting events.

Hundreds of CSKA Moscow fans were not allowed to leave the stands of the VEB Arena following a soccer match against Zenit St. Petersburg on the evening Sunday, November 28. 

The match between the Russian Premier League (RPL) clubs ended in a 2–0 loss for CSKA Moscow. At the end of the game, the club’s fans set off pyrotechnics in the stands. 

According to news site, Moscow police wanted to trackdown the fans responsible for the fireworks display, but there were problems with the stadium’s surveillance cameras. As such, law enforcement opted to keep spectators in the stands, in the cold, for more than three hours (without giving them food or water, or allowing anyone to go to the toilet) and began arresting CSKA Moscow fans en masse.

In total, more than 408 people were taken to local police stations, including 12 minors. Eyewitnesses said that the police were “polite” and carried out the arrests “properly.”

The next morning, Moscow police announced that they had filed 51 administrative offense protocols against soccer fans arrested at Sunday’s game. Half of these protocols (25) were filed over misconduct at the stadium, including 14 protocols relating to the use of pyrotechnics. Another 23 protocols were drawn up over consumption of alcohol in a public place. In addition, two more fans were charged with petty hooliganism and another was charged with evading a previously imposed administrative penalty. 

“It should be noted that the stadium where the match was held did not meet the requirements of the Rules for Ensuring Safety at Official Sporting Events. In particular, there was no video recording of the [sections of the stands] where the most active fans were located,” the press release added. 

As notes, this is at least the fourth incident this year where Russian police intervened during a soccer game. In May, police arrested FC Lokomotiv Moscow fans after a match in St. Petersburg. Then in October, St. Petersburg police arrested FC Spartak Moscow fans at a match against Zenit. That same month, Spartak fans were beaten up by police in Chechnya at a match against FC Akhmat Grozny. 

‘CSKA is us!’

Following Sunday’s arrests, the Russian Premier League expressed outrage over the actions of the police, promising to conduct a thorough investigation of the incident. 

“We understand that the presence of law enforcement agencies at the stadiums is inherently aimed at ensuring security and preventing illegal actions, including the use of pyrotechnics. However, at the same time, we believe that in the case of the incident at the VEB Arena, the measures taken by police inconvenienced and endangered people’s health in an obvious way. We note with regret that such events have an extremely negative effect not only on the RPL’s image but also on [the image of] Russian soccer as a whole,” the league said in a statement.

RPL head Ashot Khachaturyants told Match TV that the surveillance cameras in the stadium were turned off as the result of a hacker attack.

In turn, CSKA Moscow’s press service released a statement condemning fans who set off pyrotechnics at the stadium. “Unfortunately, for the first time in the history of the VEB Arena, pyrotechnics were used during a match on such a scale. We condemn those who committed these unlawful acts, but at the same time believe that the innocent should not suffer,” reads the statement from the club. CSKA Moscow also promised to help fans who weren’t involved in the incident and provide them with free legal counsel. 

The CSKA fan association “Men in Black” also released a statement, decrying the actions of the police and calling the response from the club’s leadership a “shot in the back.”  

“The club’s top executives, who, in fact, have a direct obligation to provide a comfortable stay for season ticket and ticket holders at home matches (not to mention the purely moral side of the issue), simply withdrew and buried their heads in the sand, silently observing the arbitrariness of the security forces from the panoramic windows of the VIP offices. And, three hours later, they even released a shameful statement, where they focused on condemning the ‘offenders,’ while hypocritically keeping silent about the one and a half thousand innocent people caught in the middle.

CSKA is us! You are hypocritical cowards and traitors trying to straddle two worlds and not fall out of favor with [the club’s] powerful owners. You deserve nothing but contempt from us.”

The incident at the VEB Arena also drew comments from State Duma lawmakers, who took the opportunity to advocate for the adoption of the law on issuing special passes for sports fans (Fan ID).

“If everyone is detained in droves this speaks to the fact that there isn’t a good enough system for identifying individuals. At the moment, tickets for the match are [purchased using] a regular passport, but now [we’re] moving toward the adoption of Fan ID. This incident is direct evidence of why this should be done,” said lawmaker Nikolai Valuev, a former professional boxer. 

“CSKA fans tried to hide their colleagues who lit the flares, so the police detained everyone!” said lawmaker Svetlana Zhurova, a former Olympic speed skater. “There were similar incidents in the West, this came to us from there! We need Fan ID so that there are no such incidents.” 

Story by Alexander Filimonov

Translation by Eilish Hart