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School of Hard Knocks: How 160 teenagers were exposed as part of fight club at Moscow school

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Karim Zidan delves into the recent report about a fight club in a Moscow school and how it is part of a concerning international trend. 

On October 3, 2019, reports began to emerge about wide-scale fights being arranged between students at a school in Moscow — a case that has since spiralled into a full-blown fight club with more than 160 student members.

A journalist working for local news outlet okha65.ru discovered a group page on Russian social networking site VKontakte that invited teenagers to take part in full-contact fights without rules. The group page featured several videos, all of which showed teenagers dressed in torn gloves and fighting in front of at least 50 classmates.

The fight club, which took place at Moscow school no. 97, was reportedly made up of high school students who convinced or coerced middle school students to fight while they placed bets on the action. One of the Grade 6 students involved revealed that the minimum bet was 1000 rubles (approx. $16) and that both the bettor and the winning fighter split the profits. He explained that the fighters were not expected to pay an entry fee but did not specify how the winnings were split.

Another student stated that the fights did not have a specific ruleset and that the fights went on until first blood was spilled. One teenager reportedly had four teeth knocked out while dozens of classmates watched on.

“There are no rules. The fight ends either by knockout or surrender of the opponent.” read a message on the group’s VK page.

The most recent fight club meeting took place on October 29 at 6pm in a local park. An unnamed resident commented on the meeting, stating, “They are going to the park, that’s right, I saw it myself. There were not many, 12-15 people. Teenagers 13-15 years old. The boys fought very cruelly, and the girls encouraged them and took everything that was happening on the phone.”

However, since the reports emerged, the group has made its VK page private, which in turn limited access to its upcoming schedule or to the updated list of participants.

In the aftermath of okha65.ru’s investigation, the mayor of Okha, Sergey Gusev, instructed the police force to launch an investigation into the incident and to strengthen patrols in the evening and at night.

”A meeting of the commission on minors’ affairs was held on Friday, where tasks were also set for the Department of Education, the Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, trainers and other departments. In addition, the city park was equipped with lighting,” the head of the city, Sergey Gusev, stated.

Teachers and psychologists have also started counselling some of the participants to help them deal with the traumatic experience.

“In the near future, our school students will start their holidays, so education activity related to issues of safety, aggression, and participation in social networks is being carried out. Individual work is being carried out with the guys who follow the VK page,” said Natalia Nozhina, head of the Okhinsky District’s educational department.

The Russian Federation is not the only country dealing with a rise in teenage-led fight clubs on school property. Over the past few years, Canada has also dealt with several such cases, including an October 2018 incident that led to the suspension of 20 students from a school in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

The Robert Bateman Secondary School suspended 20 students over a reported “fight club with boxing gloves.” However, a Abbotsford School District spokesperson later denied the existence of the club by claiming that there “is no fight club” and that the principal had “dealt with the matter” earlier that month. However, she did not explain why 20 students were suspended.

The following month saw another similar incident take place in Ottawa, Ontario. A two-minute video posted on social media reportedly showed two boys in a violent scuffle while dozens of other teenagers stood around and cheered them on. The video ends when one of the boys grabbed the other and punched him in the nose, which caused him to fall over holding his face. A second video posted showed another fight taking place in front of a row of red lockers, which is believed to be inside a school.

In a letter to parents of students at South Carleton High School, principal Bill Arden revealed that there is a trend of teenage fight clubs taking place across the country, “This is a very sad statement about adolescent society and is not isolated to South Carleton,” he wrote.

A more recent incident took place in October 2019 after reports emerged of a student fight club at Central Senior School in Lindsay, Ontario. It started with a video posted on a private Instagram account that revealed two young boys engaged in a fist fight while other students surrounded them and cheered on. Some of the surrounding students were reportedly jeering and swearing, as one could be heard saying things like “work his ass” and “fat fu**.”

Shortly thereafter, concerned parents came forward and claimed that their children were forced into the fights.

“There’s this group of bullies at Central are going around fighting each other and filming it or they are pressuring kids into fighting and filming it.” said parent Jon Perrin, who added that his son gave into peer pressure and was involved in one of the fights. “They ended up at the skate park and this kid brings the two grade 8 bullies with him, they are calling my son names, calling him a pussy, saying you need to fight, we came all the way here to watch you fight.”

Since then, more parents have come forward with stories about their children’s involvement in these fight clubs, many of whom were pressured and forced into fighting. Some parents even accused the school of knowing about the club for several years. As a result, the matter was brought before the Trillium Lakelands District School Board meeting. The matter is being further investigated by local police.