Russia’s football leaders could learn a lesson from Liverpool. If the issue is racial discrimination or abuse do not bury your head in the sand and dive into denial mode.
Thursday this week was Anti-Discrimination Day. This would have been the ideal week, then, for the 2018 World Cup hosts to come clean. They are not defending a bid any longer, after all. Nothing to hide or be wary about. The 2018 finals will be in Russia. It’s all signed and sealed.
Michel Platini is not even whingeing about the climate, or the time of year or whether goal-line technology will be used.
But Russian football has a major challenge to confront regarding racist behaviour. The sooner Sports Minister Vitali Mutko and organising CEO Alexei Sorokin admit it and deal with it, the better for everyone concerned. Pretending this is a societal problem is not good enough.
Someone has to lead a way into the real world.
Everyone remembers the “Thanks, West Brom” placard paraded by Lokomotiv Moscow fans when the west Midlands club took Peter Odemwingie off their guilty hands. Plenty of disgusted international finger-pointing followed bananas thrown at Brazilian veteran Roberto Carlos last year when he turned out at Anzhi Machakhalka.
Now it’s happened again. The target this time was another Anzhi new boy in Chris Samba, late of Blackburn Rovers. He had barely set foot on Russian football soil before he received his first banana-shaped taste of what goes on. Against Lokomotiv Moscow, coincidentally.
Not only was the timing disastrous because of Discrimination Day; this was the week the Russians chose for a set-piece unveiling of their World Cup logo and plans to cut the proposed 15 stadia to the required 12 or 13 by September.
[This puts the Russians far ahead of the Brazilians who will stage the World Cup four years sooner and cannot even confirm which stadia will be ready for next year’s Confederations Cup.
At least Brazil’s Sports Minister, Aldo Rebelo, did have the grace to admit on a TV show this week that Brazil signed up to all the guarantees demanded by FIFA in 2007 just to get the World Cup. It wasn’t, he seemed to be suggesting, that they ever intended to keep the promises. Anyway Lula knew he would have left the presidential palace by the time it got serious, so what did he care?].
Russian federation president Sergey Fursenko has promised a full investigation by its ethics committee into the Samba incident though Lokomotiv president Olga Smorodskaya has insisted video footage did not show any such incident.
Do we believe her? This is, after all, the same Smorodskaya who added: “We have a lot of dark-skinned players, and have never had anything of this kind.”
How do you forget a name like ‘Odemwingie’?
Sports Minister Mutko – who is also a member of the FIFA executive– insisted that Russian football was no worse, in terms of racist abuse, than many other nations. He could name “dozens of countries where this happens.”
Mutko may talk with a twinkle in his eye but it’s an icy one. He alluded to the controversy over John Terry’s England captaincy and added: “Of course it’s bad, and Russia will fight against manifestations of racism but we shouldn’t show that this is just Russia’s problem.
“Yes, these incidents happen but every one gets investigated and stadia and the people who allow it to happen are punished.”
But not the two fans who directed bananas at Roberto Carlos. Both were arrested . . . and then released without charge.
Organising boss Sorokin, talking of the stadia selection, used a metaphor about choice drawn from Alice in Wonderland’s encounter with the wondrous Cheshire Cat which faded from view until only the smile remained.
Sorokin might equally have been talking about perceptions of Russian football’s attitude to racism. For all the polite denials, there appears little substance behind the smile.
Keir Radnedge is one of the foremost observers of international soccer. He has reported at every World Cup since 1966 and is a regular contributor to TV, radio, newspapers and magazines worldwide. He is London-based Editor of SportsFeatures.com and is chairman of the Football Commission of the International Sports Press Association (AIPS). Visit www.KeirRadnedge.com for further information. Follow him on Twitter for more sports industry updates.
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