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

  • Phnom Penh unveils rules for post-lockdown transition

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration issued a set of detailed guidelines for the seven days to May 12 after the capital emerges from lockdown at the onset of May 6. In the 14-page document signed by municipal governor Khuong Sreng released on the evening of May 5, the

  • SBI LY HOUR Bank Launches Cross Border Money Transfer Service between Cambodia and Vietnam on RippleNet, utilizing DLT

    SBI LY HOUR Bank Plc and Hanoi-based Tien Phong Commercial Joint Stock Bank (TPBank) on Friday launched the first Cambodia-Vietnam money transfer service in real currency via RippleNet, provided by SBI Ripple Asia Co Ltd to provide safe, fast and convenient services. SBI LY HOUR

  • Gov’t issues guidelines as lockdown nears end

    The government has issued a five-page set of instructions to be enforced when the three-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Takmao town in Kandal province ends on May 6. According to an announcement signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on May 4, the instructions cover a

  • Cambodia ready to exit LDC status

    Cambodia is well-prepared to minimise economic risks when it graduates from its Least Developed Countries status, according to a senior official at the Ministry of Commerce on May 7. Four LDCs – Cambodia, Laos, Bangladesh and Nepal – met at a virtual workshop last week to explore potential

  • Nine US franchises eye Cambodia debut

    Nine famous US franchising companies are looking for business opportunities and expansion into Cambodia to build a footstep for a strong foundation in Southeast Asia. The US embassy in Phnom Penh, in partnership with the US Foreign Commercial Service and with support from the American

  • Jab drive announced for two more Phnom Penh districts

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration on May 15 announced a first-dose novel-coronavirus vaccination campaign for Boeung Keng Kang and Sen Sok districts from May 18-31, and a follow-up second-shot drive from June 1-15. Twenty vaccination sites have been set up in a combined 13 communes across both