The violence among football fans in Marseille and Lille during the Euro 2016 tournament tragically left some English supporters in a coma after they were set upon by Russians bearing hammers and iron bars. Images captured showed beer bottles, chairs and stones being hurled in what the United Kingdom Football Policing Unit said was "an orchestrated, prolonged attack" on English fans.
This adds a more serious dimension to the events. A National Police Chiefs' Council official from Britain observed that the violence in Marseille was "highly organised". British police spotters saw men using gum shields and martial arts gloves before the attacks. Incredibly, a senior Russian parliamentarian was said to have tweeted: "Well done lads, keep it up!" Uefa, the controlling body for European football, responded by fining Russia over the incidents and imposing a suspended disqualification from the tournament.
Russia wasn't the only one behind crowd disturbances. Uefa took disciplinary action against Hungary, Belgium and Portugal as well. Supporters from England, too, have long been associated with hooliganism. To ascribe such excesses to passion for the sport and team loyalty would demean the majority of football fans who deplore such behaviour. It cannot simply be attributed to " masculinity, territorial struggle, and excitement", as one sociologist put it. That needs to be curbed as fans are expected to behave like grown-ups.
Football, like all sports, has "a unique power to attract, mobilise and inspire", as the United Nations noted. It can draw people of different cultures together, and stand for integration, opportunity, teamwork and fair play. One cannot ignore, of course, the corruption, nationalism, doping and crass commercialism associated with football. That might be beyond ordinary fans to tackle. But any ugly impulses springing from within their social circle ought to be repudiated.