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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Soccer Must Creatively Stop Thugs

Fans are returning to Russian soccer in droves. The first weekend of premier league games this year saw more than 130,000 speculators fill the stadiums - the highest turnout ever.

But soccer hooliganism is also rising. On Saturday in St. Petersburg, violence broke out at a Dynamo Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg match, and a young fan died.

It is not clear why he died - explanations have ranged from a drug overdose to an epileptic fit to crowd violence - but what is clear is that soccer authorities, the police and the government have all been alarmingly slow to investigate.

Fan violence is becoming commonplace; so much so that if not for Saturday's death, it is unlikely the marauding fans in St. Petersburg would have received such publicity. In Moscow, police will be even more worried this Saturday, when hated rivals CSKA and Spartak Moscow meet.

Aside from the obvious need for public order, however, the danger for the game is that unless measures are taken now it will follow the drift of English soccer in the 1970s - when hooliganism grew and fans fled.

Clubs, the soccer union and the police here have all been left behind by the growth in fan culture in the last 20 years. The clubs like the more vibrant atmosphere - but don't know what to do with the fans. Local police respond to rowdiness by immediately reaching for their truncheons. And clubs are so uninformed and disorganized that last season, Spartak Moscow ended up giving free season tickets to some of the biggest ringleaders of fan violence.

The majority of fans are still peaceful. And to stop the violence the soccer powers need to harness these fans. Instead of the massive military and police presence, why not experiment with stewards taken from the ranks of these fans?

Clubs could also put such fans in charge of club-funded programs or fanzines, which could set up as rivals to those programs and fanzines that revel in the hooligan subculture.

There are other proper security measures to be taken as well: Establish a national database of known hooligans, more closed-circuit cameras at grounds and special trains for fans; ban the fans who cause trouble, and fine the clubs they support.

It's not a problem limited to Russian soccer. Last weekend saw similar clashes in Poland, Hungary and Romania. But Russia doesn't seem to be facing up to its problem. UEFA, the body that governs soccer in Europe, should be sending out teams to advise on how to fight hooliganism and fund programs to combat the problem. Now.

- Kevin O'Flynn