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

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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.”

Sessegnon scores 15th as Fulham equals Man City unbeaten mark

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Fulham equalled the longest unbeaten run in the English top four tiers this season as it defeated sixth-placed Millwall 3-0 on the road to increase its streak to 22 games without a loss and moving the club into position for automatic promotion.

The Whites have not lost since December 16th when they fell 1-0 to relegation-threatened Sunderland. The unbeaten streak matches Manchester City’s run of 22 games to start the Premier League campaign before a 4-3 loss to Liverpool in mid-January broke the spell.

Highlighting the match was the game’s opening goal from 17-year-old Ryan Sessegnon, the young defender’s 15th goal of the Championship season. Just a week ago, Sessegnon was named a finalist for PFA Player of the Year alongside Harry Kane, Leroy Sane, and Raheem Sterling. Also scoring in the win was Newcastle loanee Aleksandar Mitrovic who has bagged 11 goals in 15 matches since moving to Craven Cottage on Deadline Day of the winter transfer window, sparking talk of a possible permanent move should the Whites find themselves promoted at the end of the season. Fulham has not trailed a single second since he stepped on the field for his club debut.

Manager Slavisa Jokanovic has the team firing on all cylinders, outscoring opponents 49-14 during the unbeaten streak and racking up 56 out of a possible 66 points, with just five draws blemishing an otherwise perfect record. The club has scored first in 15 straight matches, and has not trailed since drawing level in the closing minutes of a 2-2 draw with Hull City on December 30th.

USMNT defender Tim Ream has been arguably the club’s most valuable player during the streak, locking down a defense that has picked up 11 clean sheets during the unbeaten run. Ream has played in all but two league matches this season, completing the full 90 minutes in all 41 of his appearances thus far. He has been voted Man of the Match five times this season by the fans on the team’s official website, most recently in a 1-0 victory over Reading on April 10th. He also grabbed the award in a 2-0 win over Championship title winners Wolves on February 24th, a game that saw the Whites out-possess and out-shoot the league champions.

Fulham still has work to do in the Premier League promotion picture, despite the spectacular form. They sit in 2nd position as it stands, leading Cardiff City by two points, but Cardiff has yet to play this weekend, giving them a massive two games in hand. Fulham could ultimately be done in by a slow start to the season that saw them win just twice in the first nine matches of the season as the squad adjusted to a host of new additions. In addition, Fulham suffered a disappointing draw last time out against Brentford as the Bees scored in the 94th minute to deny Fulham all three points, a massive blow to their automatic promotion hopes. Still, Fulham would be considered favorites in any potential playoff run, with Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, and Millwall currently the other teams in playoff positions.

There’s plenty on the line for the club over the next few weeks. Should Fulham fail to gain promotion, it could be a massive blow to the club as Sessegnon could be lured away from Craven Cottage, with Jokanovic and playmaker Tom Cairney also likely to garner speculation of a departure over the summer if the club was to remain in the Championship.

Espanyol fires former Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Espanyol says it has fired manager Quique Sanchez Flores with the club slumping in the Spanish league and in danger of facing a relegation fight to end the season.

Espanyol announced the decision on Friday, adding sports director Jordi Lardin has also been let go.

Sanchez Flores, a former manager of Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Watford, among other clubs, coached the Barcelona-based club for the past two seasons.

Reserve team coach David Gallego will take over for the remaining five rounds of the season, starting with a visit to Girona on Sunday.

Espanyol hasn’t scored a goal in five matches, and has only two wins in the last 15 rounds. It is in 16th place, nine points from the drop.

Brooks yanked after 29 minutes on return from injury

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USMNT defender John Brooks, whose season has been largely ruined by injuries, made his first start since mid-December after finally returning from a knee injury. It didn’t last long – just 29 minutes.

It doesn’t appear to be injury related, however.

After earning a yellow card just 13 minutes in, Brooks was yanked by new Wolfsburg manager Bruno Labbadia in the 29th minute with the club down 1-0 on the road at Borussia Monchengladbach. Brooks was furious as he came off the pitch, and reports from Germany seem to suggest that his substitution was a tactical decision rather than injury-related.

Brooks has made just eight Bundesliga appearances this season, starting the campaign on the shelf with a thigh injury before his knee problem kept him off the field almost four months through the winter and into the spring.

After his withdrawal, Wolfsburg conceded two more goals before halftime as Monchengladbach grabbed a 3-0 lead via goals from Raffael and Christoph Kramer, with Lars Stindl having already given them a lead eight minutes in.

It’s understandable why Labbadia would be cautious with his more aggressive players. Wolfsburg is in danger of the drop, level with Mainz and Freiburg on 30 points with one of them almost assuredly to finish in the relegation playoff position. Still, it’s an unfortunate turn of events for Brooks after finally making his way back to the field, and he was visibly angry as he came off the pitch.

FA Cup semifinal preview: Can Mourinho win Man United another title?

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It’s been a season of highs and lows for Jose Mourinho, but he could put Manchester United on the precipice of another title this Saturday.

The FA Cup semifinals resume this weekend at Wembley Stadium, with Manchester United facing off against Tottenham and Chelsea battling Swansea. It’s a pair of great matchups with plenty of enticing storylines to watch ahead of and during the games.

[MORE: All our coverage of Arsene Wenger’s decision to step down]

Manchester United vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:15 p.m. ET Saturday

Jose Mourinho lost a lot of the good-will earned after Man United’s win over Manchester City as his side capitulated in a 1-0 defeat to last-place West Bromwich Albion.

Now, with a week to stew on that result, Mourinho is just two games away from raising another piece of silverware for Man United, though it won’t exactly be the trophy the fans were hoping for. At the same time, Tottenham, a team on the up and up, would love to win the FA Cup and take control fully of North London from rivals Arsenal. A trip to the final for Tottenham would be the next step in the club’s climb to greatness.

Chelsea vs. Southampton— 10:00 a.m. ET Sunday

It’s been a disappointing season for both clubs, but on different levels. Chelsea, the defending league champions, has struggled most of the season to consistently score goals and will likely finish outside of Europe – unless they make the final of the FA Cup. So there’s a lot riding on the line for Chelsea heading into Sunday’s match.

For Southampton, with Mark Hughes now in charge, it’s almost a throw-away game. If they win, they could be the first team since Wigan to be relegated and qualify for European football the next season, but it could also be a game in which the beleaguered squad could gain some confidence, beating one of the big clubs in England.