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The threat of racism in Russia adds to FIFA’s World Cup host woes

Yaya Toure should be off to Leicester to help shore up their defence. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Roar Guru
3rd March, 2015
13

Most are focused on the problems and controversy surrounding Qatar’s World Cup, but the tournament preceding the 2022 edition warrants far more immediate global attention.

There are a multitude of issues affecting the 2022 World Cup, primarily the appalling treatment of migrant workers in Qatar.

However the possibility of litigation from the major European leagues, who face having their seasons severely compromised and disrupted due to the recommendation of FIFA’s task force that the event should be held in November/December, is still a threat.

And with all these issues to distract us, it is little wonder that the problems surrounding the Russian bid have flown somewhat under the radar.

While FIFA’s joint 2018 and 2022 bidding process in 2010 was most famous for the bafflingly ill-thought decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, awarding the 2018 World Cup to Russia raised just as many eyebrows, with fans concerned over domestic security problems and the rampant hooliganism culture rife in Russian football.

Since then, despite most of FIFA’s attention being focused on the self-made problems surrounding the World Cup being held in the Middle East, a recent report highlighting endemic racism throughout Russian football poses a different, yet urgent problem.

However, the recent report on racism in the Russian Premier League shows that it is not just Qatar that appears wholly incapable of organising tournaments according to FIFA’s Codes of Conduct and Ethics.

In the report released last week, FARE and SOVA – both notable anti-discrimination organisations – have exposed frequent incidents over the course of their two year study (details of which can be found here).

The report notes that despite action being taken by authorities since 2011, including the 2014 ‘Spectator Law’, little seems to have changed, and incidents of racist chanting towards black players have continued.

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FC Rostov and Gabon international Guelor Kanga was racially abused by Spartak Moscow fans during a Premier League fixture. He responded by raising his middle finger and was subsequently banned for two games. No spectators were punished due to lack of evidence, although the club were fined a token amount.

Zenit St Petersburg’s Brazilian striker Hulk and Dynamo Moscow’s Congolese defender Christopher Samba have both been subjected to racist taunts in the form of monkey chants when playing against Spartak and Torpedo Moscow respectively in September 2014. Torpedo were subsequently ordered to play their next match behind closed doors, but Samba was banned for two games for reacting in the same manner as Kanga did – by saluting the offending spectators.

Manchester City’s Yaya Toure was even subjected to monkey chants from CSAK Moscow fans in a Champions League tie in 2013. UEFA banned spectators from the stadium for the next game, but Toure remarked, “If we aren’t confident at the World Cup, coming to Russia, we don’t come.”

Sepp Blatter has voiced his concern, committing to “a big education program with them (the Russian World Cup Organising Committee and Russian Football Union). They are aware of the situation.”

He also proclaimed “Racism is one of the items which is on my agenda on the very top, every day. If it does not stop then there must be some sanctions.”

Whether these sanctions will include taking the World Cup elsewhere is fanciful thinking. But despite the bluster, FIFA should be worried. Despite weathering multiple previous storms of negative publicity, if Blatter thinks he can brush off the criticism if the world is exposed to monkey chants from the stands in their showpiece event, he is even more ignorant than anyone has realised.

Unfortunately for everyone, racism is not going to go away any time soon. On Monday, British anti-racism organisation Kick it Out reported an increase in reported discriminative behaviour over the last year.

This report comes hot on the heels of English club Chelsea being thrown into the spotlight after racist chanting and assault of a black French man on the Paris subway emerged after a Champions League tie last month, highlighting just how far there is to go until racism is eradicated from the sport entirely.

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While FIFA are seemingly bunkering down into damage-limitation mode over the Qatar World Cup decision, they need to do a lot more to stop the World Cup in Russia from descending into a racism-dominated sham.

Currently, the bulk of the criticism is directed towards the Qatar decision, but if the 2018 Russian World Cup does not run smoothly, the pressure on football’s governing body may reach critical levels, and have severe, far-reaching consequences.

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