UK tabloid distorts traditional Russian pancake festival into ‘Ultra’ football thug fights

UK tabloid the Mirror has used the traditional Russian festival of ‘Maslenitsa’, celebrated during the last week before Lent, as part of a “shock investigation” into Russian football hooliganism.

A video with the title “Russian ‘football fans’ in bizarre refereed ‘fights’”, published on the Mirror website on Monday, was part of an article titled “Russia's Ultra yobs infiltrated amid warnings England fans could be KILLED at World Cup.”

The video and accompanying photos purport to show Russian football ‘Ultras’ in “violent action” at a “special festival.”

The article also featured on the front page of Tuesday's Daily Mirror newspaper.

The web article, however, failed to mention that the event was actually part of Maslenitsa celebrations – the traditional Russian pre-Lent festival, which this year was at the end of February, and in which people eat pancakes and participate in activities such as sledding.

The fighting shown in the video and photos is the traditional Russian “wall-to-wall”(‘stenka na stenku’) sparring between men dressed in traditional folk clothes, representing a centuries-old tradition.

The caption reading “The Ultras in violent action” shows two men in boxing gloves, one of whom is wearing a traditional red Russian shirt called a Kosovorotka

Another caption reads “People are living in fear” – apparently referring to fear spread by Russian football hooligans – under a photo showing elderly ladies selling traditional woolen shawls.

The organizers of the festival at the Izmailovsky Kremlin in Moscow, where the footage was taken, told RT that the event did not involve any football Ultras.

“We are honestly lost for words regarding the lack of knowledge of Russian traditions,” said press secretary Zhanna Chernenko.

“It is politicizing traditional male bonding. This is Maslenitsa. The fights are 100 percent staged. There were no harmful blows and there were no Ultras involved. We have been closely working with this Kulachny Boi [traditional boxing] club for years.”

Responding to warnings in the article that England fans could be killed if they come to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Chernenko joked: “We have a trained bear, but it’s not trained to attack British fans.”

The article itself, described by the author as "a shock investigation," frequently refers to the clashes between English and Russian fans that took place around the Euro 2016 match in Marseilles, France, last summer.

One alleged Russian hooligan is quoted as saying: “You think it was bad in France – wait until Russia. This is our home fixture.

“An England fan almost died in Marseille. It could be worse next summer. If the circumstances are right ¬someone could get killed.”

Russian fans have recently hit back at claims of rampant hooliganism, in particular targeting a documentary made by the BBC titled “Russia’s Hooligan Army.”

At the weekend, fans at the Moscow derby between Lokomotiv and Spartak unfurled a banner reading: “Blah Blah Channel” – mocking the initials of the BBC.

Fans see their portrayal in the Western media – and in the UK in particular – as an unfair reflection of what football is really like in Russia.

The Mirror later updated the website article to include an explanation that the fight was “organised in a Moscow suburb as part of a bank holiday celebration,” adding that “families cheered as the fans stormed in against each other.”

The time of the update (11:48 GMT) and the difference between the texts can be seen in the image below.

A spokesman for the Daily Mirror later replied (at 11:56 GMT) to an official email from RT, saying: "Today's story is the result of a long term investigation into Russian Ultras. Our Chief Reporter went to Yekaterinburg to interview Alexey Mavryn [referred to in the article] on-the-record, and we interviewed two further Russian football fans in St Petersburg in person.

"Regarding the images used they were taken by a Daily Mirror staff photographer and we have made it clear in the story that they are from a fight 'organised in a Moscow suburb as part of a bank holiday celebration'."

Any mention of Ultras taking part in the festival has also been removed from the photo captions, as the article was again updated by the Mirror at 16:23 GMT.

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