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.”

Mourinho: Mkhitaryan “disappeared” during games, got dropped

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It would appear that Henrikh Mkhitaryan has become the new Luke Shaw, who not so long ago became the new Juan Mata, who had become the new Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Pepe, who all previously become the new Kaka and Mesut Ozil — players previously perceived to be undroppable, only to fall out of favor and be dropped from Mourinho’s side.

[ MORE: Carrick back in training after operation to fix irregular heartbeat ]

Similarly to many of the aforementioned stars of Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid sides of the not-so-distant past, Mourinho recently singled out Mkhitaryan for not working hard enough for the team and failing to meet expectations with his performances.

Mkhitaryan last featured in Man United’s 1-0 loss to Chelsea on Nov. 5, prior to the most recent international break. He played just 62 minutes, to follow an UEFA Champions League appearance of just 45 minutes against Benfica. Mkhitaryan was then absent from the substitute’s bench for a victory over Newcastle United and a defeat to Basel.

[ MORE: Pochettino sees Sanchez as one of world’s best defenders already ]

In Mourinho’s mind, Mkhitaryan hasn’t merited a place in the team — quotes from the Guardian:

“I was not happy with his last performances. I’m not speaking about one or two, I’m speaking about three, four or five. He started the season very well and after that, step by step, he was disappearing. His performance levels in terms of goalscoring and assists, pressing, recovering the ball high up the pitch, bringing the team with him as a no. 10, were decreasing.

“That was enough [to drop him] because the others worked to have a chance. Everybody works to have a chance. It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t know if Mkhitaryan will start but, for sure, he will be back in the group. For him to be back to the group, it means that somebody is going to leave the group.”

Davinson delights Pochettino, who predicts “massive” strides

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It’s still very early days for Davinson Sanchez as a Tottenham Hotspur player, but the early returns are extremely positive as the Colombian center back has featured in 14 of the club’s 17 games in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League this season.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Dortmund again to win group with Real Madrid ]

What’s more encouraging than Sanchez’s initial performances? The 21-year-old’s “massive” room for improvement and the expectation he’ll one day soon be one of the world’s best defenders, according to manager Mauricio Pochettino.

After signing for Spurs in August, Sanchez went straight into Pochettino’s starting lineup, slotted in between stalwarts Toby Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who together last season led the defense with the PL’s best record (26 goals conceded in 38 games), as part of a back-three. Sanchez has taken to Tottenham like a duck to water, in Pochettino’s estimation — quotes from ESPN FC:

“You saw against against Dortmund how many times he was with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang one-versus-one. How many central defenders can play one-versus-one and escape and go, be tight and press? If you run, I run because I am so confident when running. I think not many center backs in the world can do this.

“Or against Swansea against Tammy Abraham: how many times he was one vs. one and the ball was behind him, he was on the halfway line and running was not a problem? And against Cristiano Ronaldo, too?”

“We expect more from him, but I am so happy with him. He is doing well, very well. He’s only 21 years old, but he shows more maturity [than that], and he’s so aggressive when he’s marking, his concentration [is good] and then with the ball he’s good, but I think he can improve.

“There is massive scope to improve potentially, it’s massive for him. In only a few months, he’s showing he’s doing a fantastic job for us. [He can improve in] every single aspect, tactic, physical condition, technique.

“We need with him one and a half months or two months preseason every day, and then I’m sure he’s going to show a different level. I think he’s one of the best today, but has potential to improve a lot more.

“Because he’s so clever, and he’s very humble, and he’s very open to learn, he’s a player when you tell something his reaction is to be open, and be critical with himself, and that is a massive skill from a player, when he’s so open to improve, and then the conditions he has are amazing to be one of the best center halves in the world.”

To state the completely obvious, Pochettino was wise to utilize Aldeweireld and Vertonghen as training wheels for Sanchez, if you will, upon his arrival. His athleticism and pace make him 1) the ideal complement to a pair of players who read the game so well; and, 2) perfectly positioned to operate as the last-man, emergency defender on the rare occasion either Belgian is breached.

[ MORE: Liverpool host Chelsea in massive top-four clash ]

For the first time all season, Sanchez started out wide in Alderweireld’s absence (hamstring) against Arsenal last weekend, and for the first time since his arrival, he appeared a flawed — which is to say, human — defender. To his credit, Sanchez gave a quality account of himself on the whole, and finished the game much stronger than he’d started.

No one was more aware of this than Pochettino, though, as he slid Eric Dier into Aldeweireld’s spot for Tuesday’s Champions League triumph over Borusia Dortmund, again deploying Sanchez in the middle. With Aldeweireld expected to miss a couple more weeks at minimum, the Tottenham teamsheet should routinely read Vertonghen-Sanchez-Dier from left to right until he returns.

Lille appoint four interim managers to replace Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) A four-man coaching team will take provisional charge of French soccer club Lille in the wake of Marcelo Bielsa’s dismissal.

Lille says Fernando Da Cruz, Joao Sacramento, Benoit Delaval and Franck Mantaux will be in charge of the team until further notice.

Lille announced earlier this week that Bielsa had been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club” following a 3-0 loss at Amiens.

The northern side is in 19th place and next travels Saturday to Montpellier, which has the best defense in the league.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but failed to make the club competitive. After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the coach – affectionately known as El Loco Bielsa (Crazy Bielsa) – with the aim of returning to the Champions League.

Irregular heartbeat the cause of Carrick’s recent absence

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Manchester United captain Michael Carrick hasn’t played for his club since Sept. 20, a confounding period of more than two months now, and the reason for the 36-year-old midfielder’s absence has finally come to light: an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams critics (again), gives injury updates ]

The condition, which Carrick announced himself on Friday, was first detected after Man United’s League Cup victory over Burton Albion. He has since undergone a cardiac ablation, a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in your heart that’s allowing incorrect electrical signals to cause an abnormal heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Carrick was named the new United captain this summer following the departure of Wayne Rooney. As told in the above statement, he is working toward full fitness and once again being available for selection in Jose Mourinho’s side.

Hooray for modern technology and medicine, which allow otherwise baffling medical conditions to be diagnosed, treated and recovered from in a matter of weeks or months.