Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday called the football hooligan violence at Euro 2016 a “disgrace” but questioned how Russian fans could have overpowered a far larger English presence.

“The fighting between Russian fans with the English, that is a disgrace,” Putin said at an economic forum in Saint Petersburg.

“But I truly don’t understand how 200 of our fans could beat up several thousand English,” he said, to laughs and applause from the audience.

A French court on Thursday jailed three Russian supporters for up to two years for their role in the street battles with English supporters in Marseille before Saturday’s England-Russia match.

Thirty-five people were injured in the trouble, mostly English fans, including two who remain in a serious but stable condition in hospital.

One British man in his fifties suffered severe injuries when he was beaten on the head with an iron bar.

Six English fans have been given shorter jail sentences for the violence.

Russia has been angered by the French authorities’ decision to throw 20 Russian fans out of the country, including far-right agitator Alexander Shprygin who heads the national supporters’ association.

The Russian foreign ministry said the group of 20 will be out on to a plane from Nice to Moscow on Saturday.

– Sobriety needed –

In response to the violence, European football’s governing body UEFA has told Russia it will be disqualified from Euro 2016 if its fans cause any more violence in stadiums.

Putin said the treatment by police and the courts “should be the same for all violators” but expressed hope that Russian fans behave in the team’s final group match against Wales on Monday which they must win to have a chance of reaching the next round.

“I hope that there are sober-minded people among them who really love sport and understand that any violation is not supporting their favourite team but damaging to the team and to sport,” Putin said.

A French prosecutor said the Russian supporters had conducted “a hunt” of English fans in Marseille.

“They ran off together, staying in a group and keeping enough energy for what they call ‘the fight’,” he said at the trial of the Russians.

Shprygin complained on Twitter Monday that the Russian fans had been treated harshly by the court in Marseille.

“We are shocked at the French justice system,” he said.

“A French man who threw a bottle at the English gets three months’ suspended sentence and goes home. But they send (our) guys to prison for a long time without proof! It’s terrible!”

The violence which marred the start of Euro 2016 raises questions about Russia’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup.

The Russian fan given a two-year sentence on Thursday, Alexei Yerunov, is supporters’ liaison officer at one of Russia’s leading clubs, Lokomotiv Moscow.

He admitted he was at the scene of the attack on the English fan with an iron bar but denied being responsible.

Russian sport is in the dock on several fronts.

Putin on Friday insisted there was no state-sponsored doping in Russia hours before the world athletics governing body IAAF rules whether its track and field team can take part at the Rio Olympics this year.

“There isn’t and cannot be any support on the government level of violations in sport, especially on the question of doping,” Putin said at Saint Petersburg forum. – Agence France-Presse

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