Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Racism scandal rocks run-up to Russia's World Cup




Racism scandal rocks run-up to Russia's World Cup

France’s Kylian Mbappe (left) celebrates with Paul Pogba after scoring a goal during their friendly with Russia at the Saint Petersburg Stadium on Tuesday
France’s Kylian Mbappe (left) celebrates with Paul Pogba after scoring a goal during their friendly with Russia at the Saint Petersburg Stadium on Tuesday

Racism scandal rocks run-up to Russia's World Cup

A new racism scandal has rocked Russian football in the run-up to the World Cup – and anxious Moscow authorities are taking it seriously.

The idea of fans targeting black players with monkey chants is haunting Russian football chiefs heading into the June 14 to July 15 celebration of the “beautiful game”.

But racism reared its ugly head on Tuesday when French players Ousmane Dembele and Paul Pogba were targeted during France’s 3-1 friendly win over Russia in St Petersburg.

An AFP photographer heard imitation ape noises aimed at Barcelona forward Dembele, while internet users reported similar abuse from sections of the 50,000 crowd targeting Manchester United’s star Pogba.

Following calls from French sports minister Laura Flessel for “European and international” action, football’s ruling body FIFA is now investigating.

Although the Russian Football Union’s initial response was sceptical – its security council chief said his monitors “did not hear or record anything of the kind” – anti-discrimination inspector Alexei Smertin later said a RFU probe was already underway.

The Russian parliament’s deputy speaker, Igor Lebedev – a sports fanatic who sits on the RFU’s executive committee – addressed racist abuse the way few football officials had done before.

“I want to call on fans to stop this,” he told the Championat sports news site. “This is not just a problem with our fans’ perception of African American and black players.

“The problem is elsewhere: none of this bad behaviour will stop until we start punishing it.”

Russia’s history of all forms of discrimination stretches back to its Soviet era and is rarely tackled head on.

Critics say it is only being fomented by a mix of nationalist and socially conservative Kremlin ideology that at times borders on xenophobia.

Lebedev further appealed to Russians’ sense of patriotism and pride in “our nation’s prestige”.

“Do we want to embarrass the country?” he asked.

‘Ultras’ and bananas

Racism is especially closely associated with football because of the right-wing hooligans and club “ultras” attracted to the game.

The scourge swept across Europe and was especially severe in countries such as England and Italy between the 1970s and 1990s.

This hatred spilled onto Russian football stadiums in the last two decades as clubs began signing African and Latin American players.

One of the starkest episodes saw Brazilian legend Roberto Carlos walk off the pitch in disgust after a banana was thrown his way in 2011.

The Football Against Racism in Europe anti-discrimination network reported 89 racist and far-right incidents at Russian games in the 2016-17 season.

But for French former World Cup winner Lilian Thuram, nothing concrete is being done to resolve the problem: “Is there any real will on the part of FIFA, the Russian federation or society in general to address this issue ?

“If this happens during the World Cup, will the referee stop the game? I doubt it. We will only see how serious FIFA are if they decide to stop a game.”

Anti-discrimination officer Smertin has been one of the sport’s most vocal proponents of change.

The former Spartak and Chelsea midfielder visits schools and has organised a Moscow State University course for combating discrimination in football.

Smertin now wants to introduce similar studies nationwide.

“These lessons won’t just be about football but about dialogue between different people,” he wrote in the Moscow Times.

“And football, in my opinion, is a great platform for dialogue.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Without shoes or a helmet, a young cyclist steals the show

    Pech Theara gripped the curved handlebars of his rusty old bike, planted his bare feet on its pedals and stormed as fast as he could towards the finish line. The odds were against him as the 13-year-old faced off against kids with nicer bikes at

  • Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville expressway on schedule

    The construction of the more than $1.9 billion Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway has not been delayed despite the Covid-19 pandemic, with more than 26 per cent of the project completed and expected to finish in about two years, according to Ministry of Public Works and Transport secretary of

  • Over 110 garment factories close

    A government official said on November 22 that at least 110 garment factories had closed in the first nine months of the year and left more than 55,000 workers without jobs – but union leaders worry those numbers could be much higher. Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training undersecretary

  • Singapore group seeks $14M in damages from PPSP over ‘breach of contract’

    Singapore-based Asiatic Group (Holdings) Ltd is seeking a minimum of $14.4 million relief from Cambodia Securities Exchange (CSX)-listed Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone Plc (PPSP) for allegedly breaching a power plant joint venture (JV) agreement. Asiatic Group’s wholly-owned Colben System Pte Ltd and 95 per

  • PM vows to protect Hun family

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has vowed to continue his fight against opposition politicians who he said intend to smash the Hun family. Without naming the politicians but apparently referring to former leaders of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Hun Sen said there

  • Cambodia lauded for fight against Covid-19

    Cambodia has drawn global accolades for its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, with a new report finding that the Kingdom has controlled the pandemic better than any other country in Asia. Dr Takeshi Kasai, director of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Western Pacific region,