Russian fans stage nationwide walkouts over police crackdowns on ultras

Spartak Moscow fans leave match in protest of police crackdowns on ultra supporters. Getty Images

Football fans from almost all of Russia's top clubs have staged mass walkouts at games to protest a police crackdown.

So-called ultras organized walkouts during at least seven Russian Premier League games this weekend after a wave of arrests targeting Spartak Moscow fans the week before.

Fans walked out leaving behind banners saying "A fan is not a criminal." Even Spartak's bitter rivals like CSKA Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg saw large numbers of their hardcore supporters join in.

Russian authorities have sought to limit hardcore fans' influence in recent years by cracking down on hooliganism ahead of the 2018 World Cup and by arresting non-violent supporters for issues which might previously have been ignored, including the use of pyrotechnics or even swearing.

Insulting chants aimed at national team captain Artyom Dzyuba -- who's widely disliked by Spartak fans -- during Russia's away game at San Marino last month set in motion the events leading to this week's protests.

The insults were widely criticised by Russian football officials, and Spartak fans arriving for last week's game in St. Petersburg against Zenit found themselves targeted by police.

Dozens of fans were detained before the game, with state news agencies reporting 34 were later tried on various grounds. A Spartak fan leader was banned from attending games for 18 months by a court after being accused of organizing more insulting chants.