WARSAW: Polish fans clashed with Russian supporters in Warsaw ahead of their teams’ high-tension Group A draw at the National Stadium in Warsaw. A reported 184 arrests were made and 10 people – seven Polish, two Russians and one German – had been injured as 6,000 riot police sought to maintain control.
Concern had been raised last week after Russian fans arranged their match to the stadium to mark both the match itself and the coincidence of it having been drawn on what in Russia’s Independence Day.
Security forces had been brought in from outside Warsaw and had been mustered in and around the stadium precinct overnight ahead of the march by around 4,00 Russian fans.
The route of the march – considered as a “gathering” by Polish security authorities – took supporters from the fanzone outside the ‘Stalin Gothic’ Palace of Culture towards the Poniatowski bridge over the Vistula which leads directly to the stadium.
Before reaching the bridge the march was ambushed by a Polish hooligans. As firecrackers were thrown at the feet of the marchers so fighting erupted which left several people lying injured and bleeding. Stones were thrown at the marchers as they drew closer to the stadium and police used water cannon and fired rubber bullets to quell more burgeoning trouble.
In a separate incident, 50 Polish fans in masks attacked Russian fans in a Warsaw cafe, according to the Russian Interfax agency.
On the eve of the game Polish football leaders had called on the media to concentrate on the football issues surrounding the match rather than security concerns after scuffles involving Russian fans at the weekend in Wroclaw.
The match was scheduled against a historical backdrop of intense feeling from Poland’s half a century as a Soviet communist satellite state. The military alliance of that Cold War era was even identified as the Warsaw Pact.
Polish federation vice-president Adam Olkowicz who is tournament director for the Polish half of the event being shared with Ukraine, had said: “While all political considerations should be left aside . . . I think all the security forces are aware of potential threats so we need to prepared for any kind of scenario.
“So we are not mixing politics and sport – it’s the mass media doing that. You need to appeal to supporters to behave, this is your responsibility.”
Back in the 1970s and 1980s Polish federation president Grzegorz Lato had played in a number of high-tension internationals against the old Soviet Union.
Poland and the Soviets were even drawn in the same group at the 1982 World Cup finals. The match was played out against the eruption of the pro-democracy Solidarity movement in the Gdansk shipyards. So fearful were the authorities that transmissions of all Poland’s matches were subject to a five-minute time delay so that pictures of pro-democracy banners could be blacked out.
Lato had insisted that now, as president rather than player, he wanted to avoid mixing talk of politics and sport.
He said: “I played several matches against the Russians, especially in 1982 at the World Cup in Spain when we were in the same group and political aspects were very important at that time but this is a sporting event and I don’t like politics to get into this.
“Looking at the context of Poland-Russia relations from the football it’s a difficult enough match. I played against the Russians three times. In the Olympic Games in 1972 we won 2-1 then we lost a game in Volgograd and drew 0-0 at the World Cup finals in Spain when we were in the same group.
“So we are staying away from the politics. We are not interested in those issues created by the mass media. It’s a sports event and should stay that way.”
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