A senior football official has praised Russian fans involved in serious violence in Marseille, claiming they stood up for the country's honour and encouraged them to "keep it up".
In a series of stunning tweets, Igor Lebedev claimed he did not understand politicians who had chosen to criticise the fans who organised vicious attacks on England fans in the build-up and aftermath of Saturday's Euro 2016 tie.
Lebedev is a member of Russian parliament for the nationalist Liberal Democratic party and also sits on the executive committee of the Russian Football Union.
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“I don’t see anything wrong with the fans fighting,” Igor Lebedev wrote on Twitter. “Quite the opposite, well done lads, keep it up!”
Russian fans were accused of ambushing England fans in the centre of Marseille and reportedly came prepared with gumshields, MMA gloves as well as baseball bats and knives. French prosecutors have since announced that up to 150 Russian nationals were involved.
Their actions before the game were followed by disturbing scenes after the 1-1 draw when a firework was set off to signal an attack on the England fans. Russian fans overpowered stewards and charged at England fans.
UEFA have since launched an investigation into the incidents and warned Russia that continued violence will see them eliminated from the competition.
But Lebedev says that the level of violence we have seen during the contest is "normal" and called on the Russian public to "forgive" those involved.
“I don’t understand those politicians and officials who are criticising our fans. We should defend them, and then we can sort it out when they come home,” Lebedev wrote in a series of tweets.
“What happened in Marseille and in other French towns is not the fault of fans, but about the inability of police to organise this kind of event properly.
“In nine out of 10 cases, football fans go to games to fight, and that’s normal. The lads defended the honour of their country and did not let English fans desecrate our motherland. We should forgive and understand our fans.”
His comments come in contrast to that of Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko, who condemned the fans involved in the fighting.
“It’s clear that some people didn’t come here to watch football. They’ve covered their faces and then brought shame on their country,” he said.
England urged to behave
Although England fans are not under investigation, they were also warned by UEFA that they could be thrown out if their travelling fans do not stop wreaking havoc on town centres.
In an urgent message to fans in France, captain Wayne Rooney and manager Roy Hodgson called on fans planning on more violence to stop and for fans without tickets to stay away.