Researchers from the Moscow-based SOVA Center have produced the first systematic study of racism in Russian football highlighting more than 200 cases of discriminatory behaviour linked to Russian football over two seasons.
“It shows a really quite gruesome picture of a domestic league which is full of aspects of racism and xenophobia. The far-right play a significant role in the fan culture,” Fare executive director Piara Powar said in an interview with the Associated Press.
Breakdown of far-right involvement
The report lists 200 situations inside and outside of stadiums including dozens of cases where fans carried out campaigns and sold far-right merchandise to collect money for imprisoned neo-Nazis. It provides a detailed breakdown of discriminatory incidents around matches, pinpointing 72 displays of neo-Nazi symbols and 22 acts against people from the Caucasus region, which includes Dagestan and Chechnya.
Some of the far-right practices highlighted within the report include activities such as attacks on trains that involve the raiding of train carriages to turn them into ‘white wagons’.
The report covers 2012 to 2014 and also points out a trend which appears to include an apparent rise in the targeting of black players being abused this season.
“Our hope in Russia in the lead up to 2018 is we get action taken to protect the safety of fans and of players,” Powar added. “Players have already said they will walk off if they hear racism. That is a danger. We want that to be addressed in advance.”
Pledge from President Putin
Speaking in December 2010 within hours of Russia being awarded hosting of the tournament Russian President Vladimir Putin said, “We see it and we believe it is a problem and unfortunately we have quite a number of such problems,”
Putin added: “Russia is fighting it just like any other country in the world. We will do it persistently in future.”
But the report argues that not enough is being done by Russian state and football authorities. The intelligence and insights gathered will now be handed over to world football’s governing body.
The report makes a series of recommendation saying “it will be difficult to ensure the safety of visitors” to the World Cup unless Russia implements a series of measures:
• Apply consistent sanctions for discriminatory conduct
• Create a national plan to tackle discrimination and marginalise far-right groups
• Prioritise education and actively promote diversity in World Cup host cities
The report acknowledges that rules that were implemented in 2011 designed to combat discrimination at games, and welcomes the introduction of a “Spectator Law” in 2014, but the number of incidents of racism around stadiums has not decreased despite the threat of sanctions, including fines or stadium closures.
“This is not surprising because the boundaries of what is accepted in the football fan scene are blurry,” the report says. “Well-known coaches and players have photos taken with fans wearing swastika tattoos or T-shirts with Nazi symbols, and well-known singers sing songs with them in the stands.”