Peter Odemwingie said he hopes that Fifa's decision to stage the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia will lead to racism being driven out of the country's football stadiums.
Optimism diverse cultures will prevail
The West Bromwich Albion striker, who had previously said that Russia was not ready to host the World Cup, is optimistic that the arrival of players and supporters from a diverse range of cultures will help to bring an end to the type of racist abuse he received while playing for Lokomotiv Moscow.
Odemwingie spent three seasons with Lokomotiv and became an outspoken critic of the treatment of black players in Russian football. The issue was brought sharply back into focus at the start of the season, when supporters at Odemwingie's former club unfurled a racist banner that celebrated his departure. The message read “Thanks West Brom” and carried a picture of a banana, prompting Odemwingie to speak out about how prevalent racism is in Russian football.
The 29-year-old, who was born in Uzbekistan to a Russian Tatar mother and a Nigerian father, said in September: “I'm not opposed to Russia holding the World Cup. But at the same time I wonder, how is it possible to carry out such an important tournament in such an atmosphere? After all, thousands of Africans, Asians and Latin Americans would come to Russia. What would happen if they are welcomed – be it players or supporters – by animal noises? Or the next banner that someone will make? Russia will be disgraced before the whole world. It's a pity that in Russia – and I consider it my homeland – that this is how things are.”
Racism was a sensitive subject for Russia during the bidding process and prompted senior members of their team to defend allegations that it was an issue that needed to be addressed.
Odemwingie maintains that it is still a problem within the country's football stadiums, although he stressed that it was a minority of fans who are to blame and expressed his hope that attitudes could be changed through Russia hosting a sporting event that will attract people from all over the world.
Odemwingie has expressed reservations in the past about Russia's transport infrastructure as well as the issue of racism, although he feels that the time has now come to get behind the 2018 hosts. “Every country should congratulate them. People are maybe unsure how the World Cup is going to be but let's see. When it comes then maybe it will better than everyone thought.
FIFA are following a plan
“Of course every bidder wanted it in their own country but Fifa have their own agenda they are following. They are following some plans and they would know better why they are taking the World Cup to Africa for the first time and then somewhere else. That is a question for them to explain why they want it in countries that don't have the best facilities to host it.”
Piara Powar, Executive of director of FARE, told the Guardian last week, that racism was still the norm at Russian football matches but predicted that the World Cup would force a radical change on Russia's terraces.
“I think that Russia could change very quickly and eradicate much of its overt racism by 2018. We have to remember that there are many people from different cultures in Russia. The government and the Russian footballing authorities have an opportunity to educate,” he said.