Aside from the Olympics, a nation's image and prestige is seldom linked to sporting events. But Britain is certainly giving itself a black eye with the recent violence by its soccer fans in West Germany during international preliminary playoffs for the prestigious World Cup.

Drunken British fans roamed the streets for days in several West German cities last week, breaking windows, attacking German citizens, and engaging in what a shaken Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called "hooliganism." She said the rioting Britons were a "disgrace to civilized behavior." Even London newspapers did not hesitate to call their countrymen "scum" for their actions. More than 400 were arrested.That would be bad enough, but this unhappy episode comes on the heels of a stadium riot in Belgium three years ago that killed 38 people. The riot was blamed on British fans. Its club teams were forbidden to take part in European play - a ban that is still in effect.

The prohibition did not apply to the national team, which was involved in the games last week. Fortunately, the British team lost all three of its matches and will not return to the continent for further play.

Only recently, an application had been submitted to allow British club soccer teams to once again play European rivals, but after the latest outburst in West Germany, the application has been withdrawn.

Back in 1985, an outraged Mrs. Thatcher vowed that Britain would "put its house in order," but despite stringent measures, soccer match violence has not been erased.

Actually, the problem is not soccer, it's alcohol. Fights at soccer matches are started by drunken fans, who come less to watch the games than to use them as an excuse to get inebriated.

Like the riot recently at Bonneville drag races in Utah, a relative handful of drunken rowdies can cause havoc and ruin the event for all the others who behave themselves. Some of the occasional problems at local hockey games and football games can also be blamed on drinkers.

It's clear that alcohol and spectator sports do not mix. There is no acceptable reason to combine the two. Penalties ought to be swift and stiff. The British rowdies reportedly felt proud of a night in jail. Maybe they'd think differently if it was a week or more.