The continued problem of racism in Russian Football

The continued problem of racism in Russian Football

Russian football has long been plagued by racism scandals, which has now instigated the Russian Football Union (RFS) to create a new office known as the Anti-Racism Inspector.

Eurosport quoted Nikolai Tolstykh, the president of the Russian Football Union, with the following statement: “In accordance with a decision with FIFA, the RFS will introduce the position of an anti-racism inspector.” Alexei Tolkachev, who has previously worked at the Russian Football Union’s Department of Supporters Safety, will fill this new position.

The RFS has recently come under pressure, as FIFA has demanded that football authorities in the country take a more active role in fighting racism. Furthermore, the football federation has also been criticized for the way it has handled racism incidents in the past.

In December 2014 for example the reported that FC Rostov’s Guélor Kanga was fined €700 by the Russian Football Union and banned for three matches for responding to racist abuse, such as monkey chants, from the stands by showing the fans the middle finger.

This particular incident came just one day after FIFA met in Zürich to discuss new measures to fight racism during major tournaments. FIFA’s Task Force Against Racism and Discrimination was especially concerned with several incidents of racism that took place during the World Cup in Brazil, and wanted to avoid such scenarios in future competitions. The board therefore decided to train and employ new anti-discrimination officers for future competitions.

Furthermore, FIFA also put more pressure on Russia, the host of the 2018 World Cup, to be more active in fighting racism in Russian football stadiums. In early March a report called Time for Action was published by FARE, and the Russian based SOVAR Centre, which highlighted the endemic nature of racism in Russian football. Asked to comment on the report FIFA president Sepp Blatter issued the following statement: “I am aware of the report,” Blatter said. “We are concerned, definitely.”

The “Time for Action” report highlighted dozens of cases of discriminatory behaviour linked to Russian football over the last two seasons. Furthermore, the report states that under the current conditions it would be difficult to ensure the safety of all visitors to the World Cup. The South African politician Tokyo Sexwale, who also acts as an adviser to FIFA’s anti-racism task force, stated recently that “black people are scared of going to Moscow.”

With pressure mounting the RFS has now taken a stricter stance in punishing football clubs whose fans are involved in racism incidents. In March, Torpedo Moscow, for example was ordered to play two home games behind closed doors. This punishment came after an incident that took place on March 15 when Torpedo fans racially abused Zenit Saint Petersburg Brazilian striker Hulk during a match.

It appears that the creation of an anti-racism inspector seems to be the next step in introducing measures to fight racism in Russian football. But tougher sanctions and the introduction of new offices will not be enough to tackle racism in the country. The problem of racism in Russian society goes beyond football, and needs to be tackled with a wider range of education programs that go far beyond the pitch.

By Manuel Veth