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Violence strikes Euro: Fireworks flare up as threat to games, fans

When UEFA opened wide-ranging disciplinary charges against Croatia on Saturday, and added one against Turkey, that made eight fireworks incidents in the first 21 Euro 2016 games.

euro 2016 Updated: Jun 19, 2016 10:05 IST
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Turkey supporters wave the national flag and a flare during the Euro 2016 group D football match.(AFP Photo)

Fiery balls of red flame held aloft in a packed stand of fans, firecrackers thrown and exploding beside the field, smoke billowing across the stadium.

It’s a sight almost never seen by television viewers watching the English Premier League or Spain’s La Liga all season.

Tune in to the European Championship and it seems common.

When UEFA opened wide-ranging disciplinary charges against Croatia on Saturday, and added one against Turkey, that made eight fireworks incidents in the first 21 Euro 2016 games.

Flares are thrown onto the pitch during the Euro 2016 Group D soccer match between the Czech Republic and Croatia at the Geoffroy Guichard stadium. (AP Photo)

A ninth is sure to follow for Hungary fans throwing fireworks on the field Saturday, delaying the kickoff after their team scored a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw with Iceland.

The Croatia case was the most serious — it stopped play and probably cost the team two points.

In each case, a national soccer federation will be fined for fans igniting fireworks that are banned from any UEFA-organized event.

Many types of fireworks are barely bigger than a pen, and smaller than a stick of dynamite.

READ: ‘Sports terrorists’ bring new chaos to Euro 2016 as crowd violence continues

“Despite thorough body and bag searches at the stadium entrances, it is extremely difficult to completely eliminate the risk that fireworks are brought into the stadiums,” UEFA said in a statement to The Associated Press.

Leading 2-1 in the 85th minute when smoking flares rained on the field, Croatia players seemed distracted by having to plead with some fans to stop when play resumed after a five-minute break. The Czech Republic levelled with a penalty in stoppage time.

Alerted by Croatian officials to the expected threat, UEFA and French tournament organizers had placed staff near the likely trouble zone to quickly collect the lit missiles. Television pictures showed one firecracker exploding alarmingly close to one man, who was unhurt.

The list of those charged by UEFA suggests it is an eastern European problem.

Seven cases involve five different federations from behind the old Iron Curtain, plus two Turkish cases.

Turkey fans light a flare during the Euro 2016. (Reuters Photo)

Still, the cheap fireworks marketed to soccer fans are easily available on websites in English which promise home delivery within days.

Priced from as little as 3 euros ($3.40), they are described variously as “marine flares” and “signal flares”, “smoke bombs” and “stroboscopes.”

Some sites clearly identify soccer fans as a target market.

British football is not immune to the problem, even if fireworks are a rare sight at a Premier League or Scottish Premiership stadium.

Liverpool was fined 11,000 euros ($12,400) by UEFA last month for fans setting off fireworks at the Europa League final in Basel, Switzerland. Celtic was fined for a similar offense at a Europa League game in Turkey in December. The Champions League also sees regular incidents.

Iceland's Kari Arnason reacts as Hungary fans celebrate with flares after their first goal. (Reuters Photo)

There is a tariff: 500 euros ($560) per firework, according to UEFA’s recently updated disciplinary regulations.

Fines are also imposed on home teams in national or club matches, who UEFA hold responsible for stadium security, even if visiting fans are the guilty party.

Privately, soccer bodies concede it is almost impossible to keep out metal-free fireworks which are concealed so easily inside clothing, including underwear.

Some have been intercepted in France.

“Spectators who are caught in possession of fireworks are handed over to the authorities,” UEFA said, adding that it “urges all spectators to respect the safety of all people in the stadiums, including the players and referees on the pitch.”

First Published: Jun 19, 2016 10:03 IST