Racism in Russian Football Hampering Russia’s 2018 FIFA World Cup Bid?
Russia is in the running for hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It has come a long way from the days of being the USSR and the Cold War with America. It has become a vibrant modern country with a very forward outlook to the world. One place where it still lags decades behind the rest of the modern world is in racism in football. For some reason, football is one place where prejudices are still very strong in the country. A variety of reasons have been given for this phenomenon, but it is still a big problem for the country and may even have an impact on their 2018 World Cup bid.
Russia has gone through a lot in its recent history, first being the second biggest superpower in the world in the 80s to having a Cold War with America, to being broken apart into many different states and finally emerging as the country we see on maps today. Along the way in all this modernisation and change, some football fans have remained a bigoted, racist bunch. That is not to say that all football fans are racist or prejudiced, but if reports are to be believed, a good few of them are. The Russian born Nigerian footballer named Peter Odemwingie, who until recently played for Lokomotiv Moscow but now plays for West Brom in England, was subjected to open racism during his time there. Odemwingie is black and says that a minority group of fans was so hateful to him because of his skin colour that it made him sick of being at the club. It is odd because it did not matter how many goals he scored or how talented he was, he was simply hated because of the colour of his skin. Another example tells of Cameroonian defender Andre Bikey, who reportedly had to carry a gun for protection during his time at Lokomotiv. This is not only a single club’s problem: the coach of Zenit St Petersburg, Dick Advocaat, stated in 2008 in an interview that he could not sign black players because the fans would not tolerate it. In fact, an online Russian sports website reports that a Zenit fan invaded the pitch during a UEFA Cup game in August 2004 wearing a t-shirt that read: ‘There is no black in the colours of Zenit.’
Racism even extends to other clubs of the country as well. During a league match between Dynamo and Saturn, Ghanaian international Prince Amoako was booed and racially abused by fans in the crowd. The abuse is commonly horrendous, with fans calling black players ‘monkeys’ and throwing bananas at them. A banner that was torn down by the police even read ‘Blacks Go Home’. It is rather shocking that this takes places in this day and age, but racism is sadly universal and people will always find someone to abuse and ridicule because of the colour of their skin. It seems in Russia, football matches do not usually see huge crowds of people singing and chanting, like they do in Europe and the UK. When a crowd is singing and chanting, it usually drowns out what racism there is to be seen. With no chanting and singing, the racism is very evident even if it is coming from a minority of fans.
There are more than 200 foreign footballers that play in Russia today, and with new transfers and money on offer, this number is set to rise. This is one way that racism will be subdued in the country; by bringing in so many foreign players and giving people a chance to watch them play football for their favourite club, fans will realise that if a footballer is scoring goals, it does not matter what colour his skin is. The other way is to hold regular anti-racism exhibition matches which will try and promote equality and an end to prejudice. It is also up to governing bodies in the country to ensure that fans behave themselves and that players get adequate police protection. Anti-racism campaigns in schools and universities can also go a long way in dealing with the problem.
Russia is poised to become a dominant economic power once again. The 2018 World Cup, if held there, will go a long way in helping the world see a new Russia. They just need to find a way to remove the problem of racism that can be seen in many cities and in many fans of the game around the country.