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Pressure Groups Say Soccer Hooliganism May be Here to Stay

Fighting between German and Polish fans before, during and after Sunday’s Euro 2008 encounter between their teams highlights the fact that perhaps periodic violence at soccer matches may be impossible to stamp out.

German hooligans in a stadium in Auer

Switzerland and Austria are keen to avoid scenes like this

The 157 arrests that followed the violence occurred on only the second day of the three-week Euro 2008 tournament, which also features an anti-discrimination program run by anti-racism group Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) and supported by UEFA.

The FARE program includes advertizing spot broadcasts at every Euro 2008 game, pitch-side boards, and activities to encourage intercultural exchanges between fans. But after the weekend's violence, it remains to be seen whether these measures are enough to tackle a problem that world soccer is finding hard to shake off.

The aims of the FARE campaign stand in stark contrast to the realities presented on Sunday in which a minority of fans were heard shouting Nazi slogans at Polish supporters.

UEFA rhetoric on the outbreak suggested the soccer body had accepted that violence is always a possibility at high-stakes soccer matches.

"Sensitive matches are dotted around the map of Austria and Switzerland, you can turn anything into a sensitive match if you think twice about it," a UEFA spokesperson told news agency SkySports.

"We are not particularly worried about a single episode. We have a global concept we apply, match by match and city by city. It is well rehearsed and we hope also for every match it will work."

Danny Lynch, spokesperson for anti-racism organization Kick It Out, which is involved in the FARE Euro 2008 campaign, said there would always be a minority who use soccer as a vehicle for disruption.

"The events on Sunday were carried out by people who have no interest in (harmonious and respectful ways) whatsoever. These far-right groups with links to Nazi organizations … thrive on disorder and disruption."

Switzerland prepares for the worst

German and Austrian police march off violent fans in Klagenfurt

German and Austrian police march off violent fans in Klagenfurt

In Switzerland, attempts to pre-empt violence included written letters to 300 known soccer thugs around Europe, warning them that violence at Euro 2008 would not be tolerated.

The Swiss authorities also converted part of Geneva's Palexpo convention center into a temporary detainment hall for soccer thugs and allocated $61 million for security at the tournament

UEFA also shelled out money to battle discrimination at Euro 2008, with over 300,000 euros going toward the FARE Unite Against Racism campaign.

Despite the vast sums spent on match security and anti-discrimination campaigns, ongoing incidents of soccer violence persist across Europe at both domestic and international levels of the game.

"In the UK we've seen a decrease generally in soccer violence, but at the same time you look at the UEFA Cup final when Glasgow supporters were fighting with police," said Lynch. "In Italy fans are fighting amongst each other. There are still fans that just go out to fight."

The problem continues

German police arrests a German soccer fan after some clashes prior to the Germany-Poland game at the 2006 World Cup

German hooligans continue from where they left off in 2006

Although Kick It Out holds hopes that one day soccer can be violence-and-racism-free, Danny Lynch admits that such problems will likely exist in one form or another for some time to come.

"Soccer is unique in many ways, but for 90 minutes there are 30,000 people sat around a field in a situation that they ordinarily wouldn't be in. This is the excuse that these people use to have a fight," he said.

"If you look at the English game 20 years ago, fighting on the terraces was a common event. Now, we don't see that. What we do see is a new style of racist abuse: anti-semitism, islamophobia, homophobia.

"To say that (general soccer violence) will be stamped out in entirety is difficult, but it seems to be filtering out. The one thing about the Euro championship is that it's one of the only times players from clubs around Europe can come together to play each other. We need to take the goodness of that and the fact that soccer is for everyone and focus on keeping it."

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