Russia: No World Cup for racist fans

Hi everyone,
Racism, antisemitism and homophobia are plagues in our society that must be eradicated. Unfortunatly, racism found its way to football stadiums for many years and quite frankly, no drastic measures have been taken so far. Some leagues have worked hard to fight and to kick racism out of their stadiums, others, have just let things go. The Russian league is one of them.

Peter Odemwingie the Lokomotiv player got recently transfered to West Bromwich. The Lokomotiv fans displayed a banner thanking the english club with a banana as an icon. This is the banner I am talking about:

Now racism in Russian football is no surprise for anyone who follows football. Not all Russians fans are racists, but a big chunk of them display blatantly their bigotry. Dick Advocaat, the coach of Zenit St Petersburg reported in 2008 in an interview that he was not able to sign any black player because the fans would not tolerate it. In fact, an online Russian sports website reports that a Zenit fan invaded the pitch during a UEFA Cup game in August 2004 wearing a t-shirt that read: ‘There is no black in the colours of Zenit.’

When Italy U21 played vs Russia U21 in Saint Peters burg, fans welcomed Mario Balotelli, whose move to Zenit was the big rumour back then, with banner ‘Balotelli, we don’t want you here’.

Racism also concerns other clubs of the country. During a league match between Dynamo and Saturn, Ghanaian international Prince Amoako was booed and racially abused by fans in the crowd. The abuse consists of calling black players ‘monkeys’ and throwing bananas at them. This does not exist only in Russia though. The police that day torn a banner which was saying: ‘Blacks Go Home’.

Back to Peter Odemwingie. The Head of the Russian 2018 World Cup bid Alexei Sorokin denies Russian football has a problem with racist fans. How hypocritical is that? But this is not all folks. This is what he added:
“I know that this banner applied to a certain player and to the manner of how he played in his last matches. Apparently fans were not happy with the fact that he plays better for Nigeria and worse for the club. That’s why they have shown their satisfaction after he left. And there is nothing racial in it. If there would be another player – from Russia, Denmark, Norway or Japan, for example – the reaction could be the same. In Russia ‘to get a
banana’ means ‘to fail a test somewhere.”

I almost fell off my chair when I read this full of sh*t statement. Galina Kozhevnikova, deputy director of the Russian SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis, which monitors extremism in Russia, gave the answer and I will leave it at that:

“The RFU (Russian Football Union) had its head in the sand over the issue of racism. If everybody sees racism in this banner, including the player, it’s absurd to refuse. The phrase ‘to get a banana’ existed in the time of the Soviet Union and has almost disappeared from the slang. The RFU simply doesn’t want to recognize that banner as a racism.”

Peter Odemwingie gave his point of view: “Coloured players feel the open racism there and I recall a game against CSKA Moscow when their fans started the sick noises – I wouldn’t have any of it and gave it back to them. This was widely publicised because photographers had shots of my protest but still nothing was done to curb it. Sadly, it’s a picture of a minority group in Russia – it really makes you feel sick but that is what it is.”

No Peter, that is NOT what it is. There are governing bodies in charge of  making sure racism is out of football stadiums. UEFA for instance has 11 rules. Rule number 10 says:

10. Respect

“Respect is a key principle of football. Respect for the game, integrity, diversity, dignity, players’ health, rules, the referee, opponents and supporters. Our message is clear: zero tolerance against racism, violence and doping. Football unites people and transcends differences. The colour of the skin is invisible under the jersey and, for UEFA, this will always be so. Racism and any other forms of discrimination will never be tolerated. UEFA will not tolerate violence either on the pitch or in the stands. Football must set an example.”

– In 2007 Spartak Moscow were fined about £13.000 when some of its fans held up a banner “Monkey go home” at a game after Welliton joined the club.
– In 2008 UEFA fined Zenit St Petersburg £38.000 after Marseille players were targeted by some of the Russian club’s fans.

You will agree that £ 51.000 to send the zero tolerance message is a very small amount……..to say the least.

The one thing which bothered me most was to learn that the FIFA delegation who visited Russia on August 16-19 did not mention the racism topic during their visit according to Sokorin.

As I said earlier, there has been very little done against racism by governing bodies. A speech “no to racism”, some posters, code of ethics, etc that’s not enough. Clubs or federations where racists behaviours are happening are fined……a couple of thousands euros and that’s it?? More, much more needs to be done. Drastic measures which set examples where politics must get involved. Well, when there is a will there is a way….

My point is clear. A World Cup is an event that gathers people from different ethnic backgrounds, religions, origins. It is also a huge economic boost for the host country. Why do you think countries are so eager to have a Euro Championship or a World Cup organised on their home turf, where even head of states get involved?

With the ongoing racism in Russian football, isn’t it the perfect opportunity for FIFA to take a strong stand against racism? Am I being naive to think that the World Cup marketing power could incite the RFU to act drastically against its racist fans?

Your thoughts are welcome as usual!

Karl Lusbec



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5 thoughts on “Russia: No World Cup for racist fans

  1. Absolutely agree with you. FIFA needed to send across a very clear ‘no tolerance for racism in football’ message. Unfortunately, by awarding the 2018 World Cup to Russia they have missed out on what could have been been a turning point in football’s long battle with racism. Sad, Fifa’s gain was football’s loss.

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  2. Hi Rhea,
    What is frustrating is that the message sent by the football governing bodies is not followed by concrete actions. Racism in Russian football is an ongoing plague for years. It has become normality. There, it’s okay to racially abuse black players and throw bananas at them. It was an opportunity for fifa to apply acts to words. But nothing was done in that direction.

    It reminds me of the hooliganism in the 80’s. A recurrent problem everybody knew about, but nothing was done against it……until a couple of people died.
    Zero tolerance, Respect, Unity etc etc are just words thrown in to make a power point presentation or a website look good.

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