Piara Powar, executive director of Football Against Racism in Europe and a member of FIFA’s anti-discrimination task force, has warned African teams may boycott matches at the 2018 World Cup in Russia unless the racism there is tackled effectively.
Russian champions CSKA Moscow have been forced to play all of their Champions League home group games this season behind closed doors as punishment for repeated racist incidents involving their fans.
Speaking after being subjected to monkey chants by CSKA fans in a Champions League game last year, Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure claimed black players could boycott the World Cup entirely if racism at matches was not reduced
Powar has now called for the country’s President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to send out a clear message that racism in football is not something Russian society will tolerate any longer.
“It is an absolute possibility that we will have a strong, confident African team that will say, ‘We are not taking this, we are leaving regardless of what is at stake – this issue is bigger than this match’,” Powar told Reuters.
“The laws are in place to deal with racism and violence in football in Russian stadiums but those laws are being applied sometimes too stringently, sometimes not at all.
“It needs a reaction from the leadership, especially in Russia where political leadership, in a very hierarchical society, determines so much.
“Denial is always the first obstacle, and we face that everywhere, and until they get over the denial then there can be no progress and the sort of measures they need to take.
“I see this in the Organising Committee.
“What is happening inside stadiums, the far-right involvement, the levels of racism and attacks that are taking place on minorities in and around football stadiums are at levels completely unacceptable in a country that is going to hosting the next World Cup.”
This season, the Russian Football Union has punished clubs after fans racially abused Dynamo Moscow’s Congolese defender Christopher Samba and Zenit St Petersburg’s Brazilian striker Hulk.
In the former case, Samba was banned for two games for making an “unpleasant gesture” to fans who had abused him.
Despite the numerous incidents, Russia’s Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko insisted last week that the country does not have a particular problem with racism in football as it prepares to host the World Cup.
“I don’t see that we should especially stand out in this,” he said.
“A lot of dark-skinned players, from Africa, Asia, play in Russia and I don’t really see any problems.
“I don’t know what there is to be frightened of here.
“I can say that it’s a problem on a global scale.
“It crops up at any stadium in the world.
“It turns up everywhere, because unfortunately the world’s like that today.”
Mutko, a member of FIFA’s ruling Executive Committee, claimed questions had been asked before Russia hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Sochi, but added: “No one’s freedom or civil rights were infringed in any way.
“I guarantee you the same at the World Cup.”