Gent’s Mayor Bans Zenit Fans from Attending Champions League Match

Gent’s Mayor Bans Zenit Fans from Attending Champions League Match

Just when Zenit Saint Petersburg are getting a good reputation in Europe, their past returns to haunt them. With the final group stage game against KAA Gent just over a week away, Zenit fans face the prospect of being barred from attending the match. Gent’s mayor, Daniël Termont, says the decision was made, in reaction to the sharp decline in relations between Russia and Turkey. “There is a large Turkish diaspora in Gent” he says, “and the Zenit fans have a bad reputation. It was a difficult decision, but I am responsible for security in this town”.

It’s well documented that Zenit fans have been in trouble both domestically and in Europe. Following mass disorder in the final home game of the 2013-14 season – in which a Zenit fan punched an opposition Dinamo Moscow player – the club began the following season with a full stadium ban. Problems at a Champions League game in 2013, which included the display of a racist banner and the throwing of flares, led to the closure of Zenit’s fan sector for a crucial last sixteen tie against Borussia Dortmund.

On the other hand, in one of the most notorious matches involving the club – the 2008 UEFA Cup Final in Manchester, it was their opponents who caused almost all the trouble. Ticketless Rangers fans fought with police that night after a screen in a fan zone broke, and a Zenit fan was stabbed inside the stadium. Generally there is little evidence of Zenit fans causing mass violent disorder around or at European games.

The Russian press reports a UEFA source as saying that Termont does not have the authority to ban Zenit fans. “In the event of any problems [with security], either the club or the Belgian Football Association must forewarn the tournament organisers UEFA,” the source is quoted by TASS. Russia’s Minister of Sport Vitaliy Mutko, complaining of “offensive comments” regarding Zenit fans and a new “European culture” that accepts this, says that it would not be fair if Zenit fans were banned from the stadium while home fans were allowed to attend. “If the match is to take place in Gent then it must take place in accordance with the principles of Fair Play,” he told the media.

The club’s management also questions how fairly Zenit fans are being treated, and says that they are waiting for UEFA’s response. Zenit’s Belgian defender Nikolas Lombaerts, writing from Chechnya before a game there, used Instagram to respond: “Since when is Grozny a safer place than Gent? Dear Russians, now you know where NOT to go on your next city trip. Thank you, Daniël Termont, for your hospitality.”

The final decision will be up to UEFA; in these tense and unstable times, their answer is not easy to predict. A decision to ban Zenit fans, though, would set a precedent of presumed guilt—that it is acceptable to ban a club’s fans from a game because of their reputation alone. It would also overlook the fact that home supporters have been involved in recent crowd trouble themselves— against Lyon in the same tournament.

In many cases the Zenit fans already have flights, hotels and visas. The last word should go to them. Below are comments from a article on the topic:

“If you refuse entry to the stadium the disorder won’t go away…it’ll just happen elsewhere.”

“What about ordinary [Russian] tourists – or are they only afraid of fans?!?”

“Champions League sponsor Gazprom will pressure UEFA and fair play will reign.”

“What’s this rubbish? Only UEFA can officially decide whether Zenit fans have a ‘bad reputation’, not a Belgian Mayor. Whatever happens in the end, Zenit will beat Gent anyway…”

By Saul Pope –