Russia Soccer

Russia’s racism stems from lack of education but can be reversed, experts say

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A violent and vocal minority continues to shape the way Russian soccer is viewed by outsiders. On Wednesday, just over a week after Manchester City midfielder Yaya Touré claimed he was subject to racist chants from CSKA Moscow fans in a UEFA Champions League game, 30 fans were arrested at a Russian Cup game.

A group at the match between Shinnik Yaroslavl and Spartak Moscow lit flares and threw them onto the field, along with stadium seats they ripped off the stand. A handful held corners of a flag bearing the German Nazi party’s swastika.

For the alleged events at Arena Khimki, UEFA decided to partially close the stadium for CSKA’s next home Champions League match, Nov. 27 against Bayern Munich. The punishment pales in comparison to rampant racism and xenophobia exhibited by that minority of Russian fans.

“The problem that you look at within Russian football is that there is almost an ignorance towards it, a defensive attitude towards it,” U.K.-based television commentator John Bradley said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “The clubs don’t feel that they should be punished for the behavior of a handful of fans.”

Bradley specializes in matches involving Russian teams, and his tweets are generally Russo-centric. Having followed the Russian Premier League for a long time, he said UEFA’s punishment in this case will do little to encourage clubs to curtail racist behavior among their fan groups, especially when the incident occurred during FARE Action Week, when each player in every Champions League starting lineup passed around a pennant that read “No to Racism” and stared into the television cameras with it before kickoff.

“Closing a few seats in the stadium isn’t going to help them at all — 4,000 seats in an 18,000-capacity stadium — because you look at the money you get for being in the Champions League, the win bonuses for being in the Champions League, the sponsorship and the TV revenue, that’s far greater than money you will lose for closing 4,000 seats,” he said. “Now, 4,000 people won’t be able to go to a game against the European champions. It’s a shame for the well-behaved supporters of CSKA, but UEFA need to start hitting clubs harder because 4,000 seats, for the money they’re losing, is negligible.”

TIME TO CATCH UP

Until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia was largely closed to outsiders. Citizens have yet to become accustomed to being around people of other ethnicities, and educational programs about racism and xenophobia are virtually nonexistent despite a large immigrant population.

source: Reuters
Zenit St. Petersburg fans have carved out a reputation as some of the most racist in Russia, especially after a major supporters’ group released a ‘manifesto’ lamenting the black players in the squad. (Photo: Alexander Demianchuk/Reuters)

“They’re not connected in any way, but the racism and xenophobia that you have against these immigrants then somehow translates over into acts of racism in the stands and the stadium,” said Yan Matusevich, a longtime Zenit St. Petersburg fan who recently took up blogging about the issue. “It’s not taught in schools. There’s no government program about it. Nobody’s telling them this is something that is deplorable at all. Nobody’s ever told them. They’ve never been faced with the fact that this is something that they shouldn’t be proud of.”

Matusevich said he cannot recall incidents of racism in the stands when he attended Zenit games as a child, but that was largely because “the most foreign player you would have would be a player from Ukraine.” When players from other continents began signing contracts with Premier League clubs, often with more lucrative pay than their Russian counterparts, fans began to take notice.

Zenit supporters’ group Landscrona wrote a “manifesto” in December 2012 espousing the “important tradition” of keeping black and foreign players off the squad. Based on the group’s publications and leader Aleksandr Rumyantsev’s words in local media, they don’t see it as racist but simply upholding the club’s historic customs.

Rumyantsev told Zenitbol that throwing a banana onto the field at Brazilian defender Roberto Carlos was nothing more than a poor joke. Landscrona found the person responsible and banned him from the group, he said.

“He said it was stupidity on his part,” Rumyantsev said. “He did not have any racism in the thought.”

But in the same interview, the leader continued to uphold the same type of ignorance in the manifesto.

“I was taught in school: the negro has to live in Africa; the Indian, if they were still there, in America; the Chinese, in Asia,” he said. “They visit each other’s homes. St. Petersburg is a city that was created to ensure that the tourists come here. I’m glad — but to go on a visit, not to bring his samovar and live by their own laws.”

Bradley equated the Russian status quo to the racist behaviors in British stadiums in the 1980s. A rigorous educational initiative has all but cleaned up that racism, led by similar far-right groups, but Russian society as a whole has not had time to catch up, he said.

“That’s not an excuse, and it’s not an apology for them, but they haven’t had that same work done with them,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of the Russian government, the Russian football federation, the clubs to now work with supporters, to speak with the supporters’ groups, to rid themselves of these people from the far-right persuasion who are still associating themselves with football clubs.”

‘I’M WONDERING WHY THEY HAVEN’T DEFENDED CSKA’

The Russian Football Union, the national governing body of the game, has remained quiet on the racism among its clubs. The federation did not respond to email requests for an interview for this story.

“I’m wondering why they haven’t defended CSKA in this situation because I can easily imagine that, instead of accusing and doing something,” said Pavel Borisov, contributor to Russian Football News. “[Racism] happens in Russia not so often as somebody would imagine, but it happens.”

Instead of taking the opportunity to take a heavy stance, UEFA simply treated the events during the match against Manchester City as a one-off incident. New regulations stipulate that only a partial stadium closure is required for the first offense, followed by a full closure and a fine for the second offense and possible disqualification the third time.

The egregious nature of the events, capped by CSKA Moscow president Yevgeny Giner’s assertion that Touré fabricated his account of the incident, continue a troubling pattern that reaches across many of the widely followed clubs in the top flight.

In 2010, after Russian-raised Nigeria international Peter Odemwingie moved from Lokomotiv Moscow to West Bromwich Albion in England, fans unfurled a banner reading, “Thanks, West Brom” with a banana prominently displayed in the center. Alexei Sorokin, who headed up Russia’s successful 2018 FIFA World Cup bid, wrote it off as a misunderstanding and claimed the country had no widespread racism problem.

“Fans were not happy with the fact that he plays better for Nigeria and worse for the club. That’s why they have shown their satisfaction after he left. And there is nothing racial in it,” he told the BBC. “In Russia, ‘to get a banana’ means ‘to fail a test somewhere.’ ”

FIVE YEARS UNTIL FINAL JUDGMENT

source: Getty Images
Around 30 fans were arrested at a Russian Cup game on Wednesday after crowd trouble that included a swastika flag in the stands. (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

For a nation hosting the World Cup in five years, the repeated behavior and lack of reprimand for clubs is troubling. Lokomotiv received no sanction for the Odemwingie banner. The player, who was eligible to represent Russia internationally, has since moved on to Cardiff City, but the problems persist.

“When I started thinking about African teams being based in different cities around Russia and playing there [and] how they’re going to deal with that, I’m scared of what’s going to happen,” Matusevich said. “They’re not accepting the issue. They want to sweep it under the rug and make believe it never happened.”

Bradley and Borisov equated the apprehension surrounding a Russian World Cup to the similar feeling when Poland and Ukraine hosted Euro 2012, which went off with hardly any trouble. Traveling Croatian fans provided the worst moment of the tournament when they racially abused Italian striker Mario Balotelli, but the hosts behaved themselves.

“I spent the summer in Kiev [and] didn’t see one incidence of it or one instance of racism whatsoever,” Bradley said. “When the world goes to Russia, we won’t see any problems because all eyes will be on them, and I think that by that time, they will be a better level of understanding.”

Borisov said his biggest fear is not of racism, but of widespread drug dealing and other criminal behavior.

“This is what I’m afraid of, that it could happen in Russia as well,” he said, “[but] I don’t think that there will be serious trouble because the World Cup is something very, very different.”

The focus between now and then must be on educating the fan base and eradicating the problem, not just for a month during one summer five years in the future, but to change the way Russians view foreigners and people of other ethnicities in everyday life.

Maybe by then, anti-immigrant rallies and violence will stop — or at least decrease drastically — and the play on the field can become the focus, rather than the action in the streets and the stands.

“They’ll probably try to ban the most hardcore fans from coming [to the World Cup] — they’re the ones that are the most racist — and just try to control the situation and the image that they’re sending,” Matusevich said, skeptically. “They’re not going to try to deal with the actual problem, and they’re not going to make any efforts to. It’s really about education. It’s not about punishing certain people or not letting certain people into the stands; it’s about changing the way people understand the world.”

Guradiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” as a club

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City reacts as Leonardo Jardim head coach of AS Monaco looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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In the past, when faced with adversity in the UEFA Champions League, Manchester City could do little more than wilt and crumble as their European dreams when up in smoke year after year, typically in embarrassing and/or heartbreaking fashion.

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On Tuesday, when faced with 2-1 and 3-2 deficits late into the second half of their round-of-16 first leg against Monaco, deja vu was quickly setting in for anyone who’s followed Man City’s rise from middling afterthought to mega-rich conglomerate with aspirations of world domination. Then, something strange (based on years of recent history) happened: Sergio Aguero fired City back to level at 2-2 in the 58th minute. Sure, more shocking defending saw the deficit restored three minutes later, but again, Aguero dissented.

For this reason, and perhaps this reason alone considering the putrid defensively display over the course of 90 minutes, first-year City manager Pep Guardiola should be heartened by Tuesday’s events at the Etihad Stadium. In his mind, it was a massive step forward in the club’s psyche — quotes from the BBC:

“I am so happy for the result, we are still alive. These kind of things help this club to achieve another step. We attacked in small spaces. That’s why they wanted me to come here. Everybody has to be congratulated.

“We are going to fly to Monaco to score as many goals as possible. If we don’t score in Monaco we will be eliminated.”

UCL: Aguero, Falcao bag braces as Man City edge Monaco, 5-3

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City (C) celebrates with John Stones (L) and Leroy Sane of Manchester City (R) as he scores their third goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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  • Sterling gives Man City an early lead
  • Falcao hits back with a brace
  • Aguero’s brace breathes life back into City

Radamel Falcao and Sergio Aguero bagged dueling braces, while the defenders and/or goalkeepers from their respective sides engaged in dueling disasters, resulting in a bonkers UEFA Champions League round-of-16 first leg for the ages: Manchester City 5, Monaco 3.

Leroy Sane, David Silva and Raheem Sterling combined to put Man City in the lead after 28 minutes (WATCH HERE). Sane danced brilliantly and effortlessly past four defenders before playing Silva to the endline. The cross was simple for Silva, with Sterling arriving into acres of space in the goalmouth.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

That’s as good as the first half would get for City, though, as their annual Champions League meltdown commenced six short minutes thereafter (WATCH HERE). The Nicolas Otamendi-John Stones-Bacary Sanga triangle of deadly defending fell asleep in unison, which allowed Falcao all the time and space in the world to size up and head home his 23rd goal (in 29 games — all competitions) this season.

Eight minutes later, everyone else in sky blue joined the aforementioned trio for nap time. Fabinho, who also whipped in the cross for Falcao’s goal, dropped the most delicate of long balls onto the foot of Kylian Mbappe, and the 18-year-old fired his first-time shot past Willy Caballero without a single defender five yards from him in any direction.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

The second half began just as disastrously for City as the first ended. Otamendi tripped Falcao inside the penalty, and after discussing with his assistant on the endline, referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz awarded Monaco a penalty kick — City felt hard done by after Aguero wasn’t awarded a clear-cut penalty in the first half — which Falcao then proceeded to hit weakly into the waiting arms of Caballero. The tide had turned back in City’s favor.

Ageuro fired City back onto level terms just short of the hour mark, with many thanks to the horrendous howler of Danijel Subasic. Aguero’s effort on goal was tame, and right at the Croatian international, but the ball went right through his hands and found the back of the net to make it 2-2, a scoreline which lasted all of three minutes.

Stones tried his very best Otamendi impression, which looked like halfhearted defending as Falcao left him for dead and chipped Caballero in the 61 minute. The renaissance of Falcao will almost certainly result in a summer full of transfer stories linking him with a move back to the Premier League.

Aguero brought City back to level terms again in the 71st minute, unleashing a stunning volley from David Silva’s corner kick. Stones tapped home at the back post six minutes later to put City 4-3 ahead, and Sane completed the epic comeback with an empty-net finish in the 82nd minute.

In the end, City still have plenty of work to do in the second leg, having conceded not one, not two, but three away goals. One thing is a near certainty: no extra time shall be needed.

UCL: Atletico Madrid blitz Bayer for 4 away goals, win 1st leg 4-2

Atletico's Antoine Griezmann, front, is congratulated by his teammate Saul Niguez after scoring their side's second goal during the Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match between Bayer Leverkusen and Atletico Madrid in Leverkusen, Germany, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
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  • Four away goals for Atleti
  • Niguez, Griezmann, Gamerio, Torres on the scoresheet
  • Bellarabi, Savic (OG) give Bayer a lifeline

If you spent your Tuesday glued to Manchester City’s thrilling 5-3 victory over Monaco in the UEFA Champions League, you may now direct your attention to the day’s other first-leg festival of goals: Bayer Leverkusen 2, Atletico Madrid 4.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

Saul Niguez opened the scoring with a stunning curler after 17 minutes (WATCH HERE), and Antoine Griezmann doubled Los Rojiblancos‘ advantage eight minutes later to put Diego Simeone’s side in a commanding position with two early away goals.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

Karim Bellarabi pulled one back for Bayer just three minutes into the second half, but Kevin Gamerio converted from the penalty spot to restore Atleti’s two-goal lead just before the hour mark. Stefan Savic gave one back to Bayer in the form of an owl goal in the 68th minute, before Fernando Torres brought the visitors’ away-goals haul to four in the 86th minute.

AT THE HALF: Man City 1-2 Monaco; Atleti lead in UCL round of 16

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Radamel Falcao Garcia of AS Monaco celebrates as he scores their first and equalising goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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We’re only halfway through the first leg of Manchester City versus Monaco, and Bayer Leverkusen versus Atletico Madrid, in the UEFA Champions League round of 16, but the goals are coming fast and furious from England to Germany.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

Man City found themselves 1-0 up at the Etihad Stadium, when Leroy Sane turned on video-game mode to set up Raheem Sterling for the opening goal in the 28th minute. But, as City have so typically done in the Champions League, they began self-destructing four minutes later. Radamel Falcao‘s diving header brought Monaco level in the 32nd minute, and Kylian Mbappe’s finish over the head of Willy Caballero put the visitors 2-1 up eight minutes later.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

As for Tuesday’s other round-of-16 tie, Saul Niguez simultaneously opened the scoring and snatched the soul of every Bayer defender who dared to contest him. Antoine Griezmann added a second for Atleti, who hold their 2-0 lead at halftime, seven minutes later.