Football publication When Saturday Comes have published a piece examining the current issues of discrimination facing Russian footballing authorities, and the issue is sure to be discussed at length at the forthcoming 'Unite Against Racism' conference in Poland.
From When Saturday Comes:
At the end of December last year, three men were convicted of racist chanting and unfurling a racist banner at a match, the first time that individuals rather than a club have been prosecuted for this in Russia.
The incident happened at a Third Division fixture involving Maccabi Moscow, a Jewish team, and another Moscow side, Alliance.
According to the president of Maccabi, businessman Pavel Feldblum, the second half of the game was turned into “a neo-Nazi demonstration” by Alliance fans, with around 30 of them chanting “Auschwitz is the best camp for you” while holding a banner reading “Happy Holocaust”.
The suspended sentences were a hopeful sign but it remains to be seen whether the authorities have the will to deal with a problem that regularly blights Russian football at a much higher level.
One of the most notorious incidents of recent years occurred two seasons ago, when Spartak Moscow fans held up a banner reading “Number 11 is only for Tikhonov – Monkey go home” at a league match, a reference to their new Brazilian signing Welliton having asked for a “sacred” shirt number.
Although critical of the “monkey” banner, Russian Football Union President Vitaliy Mutko suggested it was “provocation” by non-football elements; an official club statement put it down to “a handful of hooligans”.
Spartak were fined 500,000 roubles (£10,000) for the incident involving the Welliton banner, but no other punishment was levied. Part of the problem is a seeming insensitivity to race issues among some Russians.
The absence of real political debate in Russia has been suggested as being to blame for the increased politicisation and intolerance of football crowds.
As well as the above incidents, the last couple of years have seen fans wearing Ku Klux Klan hoods to matches, a flag depicting a portrait of Hitler and the unfortunately customary monkey noises directed at black players – one African player found himself sent off for reacting to this; another asked to be substituted.
Although Feldblum claims that the biggest achievement of the Maccabi case has been to set a precedent, the authorities may feel that he has opened a can of worms.
Mutko and the Interior Ministry have just promised more money and tougher action to deal with hooligans, including, finally, the creation of wanted-lists of troublemakers. At present, justice appears to be applied selectively, and particularly softly when non-whites are the target.
It remains to be seen whether the authorities are ready to go against the grain and apply it more fairly next season, even when the majority do not agree.
From When Saturday Comes issue 265, in the shops now. For more information visit wsc.co.uk