Going into this year’s highly anticipated World Cup in Russia, there have been a number of recurring problems that are often being brought up time and time again. Will there be a problem with Russian Hooligans? Will there be racist attacks much like those that have occurred in Russian league games? While others have been quick to suggest that the 2018 World Cup will be one that will go down in history, and not for the wrong reasons, but as a thrilling, memorable celebration of football.
Worries About Russian Football Culture
Racism has historically been one of the forefront problems within Russian football, even recently within the last two weeks we have heard of stories of racism. Rhian Brewster, England and Liverpool U17 star, was allegedly racially abused by a Spartak Moscow defender in a recent game. Cases like this are not anomalous or irregular. Yaya Toure, Manchester City midfielder and Ivory Coast International, has been subject to racist chants while former Brazil internationals Roberto Carlos and Hulk have also been subjects of racist abuse. Hulk has even come out to state that he experienced abuse in the Russian Premier League “Almost every game”.
Emmanuel Frimpong, formerly of Arsenal, tweeted that he had been “racially abused for the game I love” while playing in the Russian Premier League. He also expressed his frustration at the Russian football authorities for condemning him after he responded to a section of abusive Russian fans by gesturing a finger towards the stands. He went on to suggest “I’m going to serve a sentence for being abused … and yet we going to hold a World Cup in this country where Africa will have to come play football”.
“racially abused for the game I love” – Emmanuel Frimpong
This begs the question, how will FIFA rid Russia of it’s Racism issues and Racist culture that exists within a section of Russian football fans before the World Cup this summer? After all, this is a football region in which a group of Zenit fans have previously created a ‘club manifesto’ in which they suggest all non-white and gay players should be excluded from their club.
“It didn’t happen at any stage during the Confederations Cup; it won’t happen at the World Cup”
Conversely, many have suggested that FIFA have been successful in their attempts to tackle racism prior to the World Cup this summer.
Hulk, who played in the Russian League for 4 years, has recently suggested that racism is no longer a problem in Russian football. Hulk has previously discussed racism in Russia and has suggested that “I’m sure it doesn’t exist anymore” he also went on to propose that (on the topic of racist abuse) “It didn’t happen at any stage during the Confederations Cup; I’m sure it won’t happen at the World Cup”.
“I’m sure it doesn’t exist anymore” – Hulk on Racist abuse
Furthermore, official reports by ‘Football Against Racism in Europe’ have stated that racist incidents and actions have been falling since 2015 in Russian football. FIFA have also declared that if racist incidents do occur during the World Cup, referees, stewards, fans and other positions of authority will have increased powers and different regulations that allow the stopping or preventing of racism in the stands.
“This World Cup will change the way in which the world is looking at Russia”
Many fans are proposing that this World Cup will change perceptions of Russia. A country which has recently been ostracized for political, social comments and actions.
Gianni Infantino, current president of FIFA, hopes that the World Cup will put Russia in a new light. He recently stated, “The world will discover a country which is open, which is welcoming, which is warm, which loves to party and to enjoy and to celebrate football. We are expecting smooth operations” as well as “All of us have a perception of a country, and when it comes for Russia as well. And as it happened in the past with other hosts, I’m sure that this World Cup will change the way in which the world is looking at Russia”.
Perhaps the World Cup will mark a new era in Russian Football, one in which fans are more tolerant – this may be the beginning of a new cultural shift within the stands of Russian stadiums.
“you can’t run from your problems. You have to tackle them.” – Sulley Muntari
Sulley Muntari, a player who has previously been a victim of racist abuse in Italy, has also supported the World Cup being held in Russia. Muntari offers the view that “it is a good thing that Russia is going to host the next World Cup,” he added how it will “bring people together, and peace”. Muntari has also suggested that “FIFA has done well because you can’t run from your problems. You have to tackle them.”. This echoes the view that the Russian World Cup may be a turning point in Russia’s racism problems.
Russia 2018, Potential Disaster or Historic Turning Point
The forthcoming World Cup will be played in the backdrop of increasing tensions between the West and Russia – it may well act as a symbol of unity and peace.
If hooliganism and racist abuse is stopped within the stands, this World Cup may be historic. The World Cup that changed the negative aspects of Russian football for good. Perhaps, this World Cup will be an opportunity for peace as FIFA President Gianni Infantino describes.
However, Russian Football federations have been reluctant in the past to enforce the ruling out of racism and the Russian Premier League have had problems for years regarding hooliganism and racism.
If Russian fans can demonstrate “global tolerance both on and off the football field”, as the Russian Football Union suggests the country will, this World Cup has potential to be momentous.
BY GREG KENNEDY