Russian football has again come into focus as the issue of racism reared its ugly head after Ghanaian midfielder, Emmanuel Frimpong, got his marching orders for making an obscene gesture at a group of fans who apparently racially abused him during a game while playing for his club UFA.
Frimpong, who was slapped with a two match ban by the Russian FA (RFU), afterwards, vented his frustration on Twitter calling the Russian FA’s failure to sanction Spartak Moscow as well a ‘joke’. The RFU had claimed that their investigations showed no evidence of any racist abuse against Frimpong. The question now is, is it logical for a player to react in Frimpong’s manner if he wasn’t provoked?
Zenit St Petersburg manager, Andre Villas Boas, has sort of given a new twist to the debate on racism in football by stating that the racism problem in Russia is at par with what is obtainable in England. Judging from his utterance, it appears that he is not aware of the magnitude of the problem in Russia or he is in denial. Or how else can one explain why throughout his stay in England he never complained of racism? Mind you, that is not to say that there isn’t racism in England. What this means is that if England’s racism problems are as bad as Russia’s, then AVB would have spoken out like he has been forced to do now in Russia. His comments however, are in contradiction to what his star player, Hulk, has said.
Hulk has said that he gets racially abused in nearly every game he plays and has learnt to more or less develop a thick skin. Unfortunately, it appears there are more black players like Frimpong who have low tolerance for vitriol than Hulk. Hulk’s club, Zenit has sections of fans who have openly come out to say that they don’t want black players in their team. According to them, they are not being racist, it’s just their tradition. Well, segregation and racism are close relatives if you ask me.
World football governing body, FIFA, has said they will call on the Russian FA to provide details on the incident but it is doubtful if this inquiry will yield the desired results which are stiff sanctions for clubs or fans who are caught racially abusing black players.
UEFA has taken steps to curb racism with sanctions such as closing stadia or parts of stadia of teams whose fans have chosen not to keep their prejudice to themselves. But football’s governing bodies UEFA and FIFA can do more in this regard.
FIFA and UEFA should begin to sanction FAs that fail to clamp down on racist behaviour of clubs’ fans within their control so that they will be forced to take the problem of racism seriously. UEFA should also consider having independent observers in stadiums that have a track record of racist chantings so that no FA can claim it lacks evidence.
Merely acknowledging the problem like Russian FA officials love doing is not enough. Turning a blind eye to overt racism is even worse.
Russia which is billed to host the next World Cup in 2018 may not be under any pressure of losing the hosting right of the World Cup inspite of the corruption scandals rocking FIFA but calls are being made on UEFA to boycott the World Cup. This is not taking into cognisance the fact that African players who are usually the target of racist abuse by Russian and other East European teams can also pull out of the World Cup to spite Russia.
The Russian FA will do well to take these threats seriously and try to do more than just talking and take firm action in keeping the problem of racism down to the barest minimum within its stadia.
Paul Oviero works and lives in Lagos, Nigeria. He is an ardent follower of Nigerian football and a fan of Manchester United. He writes articles about football regularly on his blog at paulovieroskoles.blogspot.com