With the World Cup starting in a couple of weeks and tensions with the west at their most volatile for decades, this will be one of the most politically charged World Cup’s ever. The 32 competing nations will arrive in Russia amid scandals that range from sports doping, to the poisoning of spy’s, to passenger planes being shot out of the skies – all of which are linked back to Russia and the Kremlin.
Add into the mix the recent annexing of Crimea, war in the Ukraine, and hooliganism in Marseilles at Euro 2016, Russia is not coming across very well with the rest of the international community.
However, one thing that has been a clear concern within football in Russia over many years is the level of racist incidents that go on unpunished, generally, but within football. Officials, journalists and some players in Russia admit that the country has a problem with fans that are considered right-wing, but they also think it is something that has been blown out of proportion by the media and claim it is just as bad in other areas of eastern Europe.
But monkey chants have been heard at three matches in recent months, and the Russian Football Union was recently fined £22,000 following racist chants by fans in a friendly against France in March. French players, Paul Pogba, Ousmane Dembele and N’Golo Kante, were among those subjected to vile abuse during their side’s 3-1 win against the World Cup hosts at a game that was played at Krestovsky Stadium in St Petersburg, which is one of the host venues for this summer’s event.
The spotlight will stay on the abhorrent hooligan culture that has grown amongst post-Soviet football and it seems incredibly sad that in this day and age the England squad have felt the need to discuss between themselves how they should react if they are subjected to racism during the World Cup.
According to reports they have talked about what to do and what not to do if they hear abuse, saying that they hoped if anything did happen FIFA would deal with it. A statement from football’s world governing body said there would be a “zero tolerance approach” to discrimination. But if FIFA really wanted to send Russia a message, is a fine of £22,000 for their fans behaviour against France really going to do it?
In recent years, a number of black players, including Emmanuel Frimpong and Christopher Samba, have actually been punished by the Russian Football Union for how THEY reacted to racist abuse during games, and Ultras in St Petersburg released a manifesto demanding their team do not sign any non-white and gay players. Racist banners are regularly unfurled at games and chants heard, yet despite this, nothing seems to be done.
The continued rise of the far-right was helped following an incident in 2010, just four days after Russia was awarded the World Cup. A fan of Spartak Moscow, Egor Sviridov, was killed by a rubber bullet during a fight between ethnically Russian football fans and youths from the country’s North Caucasus. The suspected killer, Aslan Cherkesov, was released from prison, which angered nationalists and led to thousands of football hooligans and far-right groups rioting on Manezh Square, near to the Kremlin.
Vladimir Putin laid flowers at Egor Sviridov’s grave later that month, an act interpreted as a sign of deference to nationalists. It showed the power the fans have, and the dominance of the far-right ideology, which was being supported by the government.
How can fans and player’s, especially black fans and player’s, being possibly looking forward to visiting this World Cup. There will be no protection for them from Russian officials or from FIFA.