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.”

Everton season restart preview

Everton season restart preview
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Everton is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Toffees when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Located six points back of the top seven, Everton will hope their long pause allowed Carlo Ancelotti’s system to sink deeper into the minds of his Toffees players. A three-match challenge of Arsenal, Manchester United, and Chelsea which yielded a lone point would’ve left Everton feeling burnt and sour for a good, long time. Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s strong attacking seasons are ready for the rebound.

[ MORE: Ranking every Everton player in 2019-20 ]

The return to the training ground hasn’t come without worry; Yerry Mina suffered a quad tear and may be out for the season, while summer signing Jean-Philippe Gbamin has experienced another setback and won’t be able to pitch into the fight for Europe.


Tactical analysis: Whether it’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin alone up top or partnered with Richarlison, Ancelotti likes power in the final third. He’s deployed Gylfi Sigurdsson a bit further back at times, trusting that Fabian Delph or Tom Davies could handle the lion’s share of the dirty work. Everton’s full back pair is one of the best in the game, so much so that back-ups Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman would start an awful lot of places. The crosses will be whipped into the mix. The biggest questions remains in goal, as Jordan Pickford is an excellent shot-stopper who hasn’t been very good at that this season but can distribute at a very high level. That part of his game is why he’s still there, and could be a big part of the 2019-20’s conclusion.


Possible XI (4-2-3-1) 

—– Pickford —–

— Sidibe— Keane — Holgate — Digne —

—– Gomes —– Delph —–

— Bernard — Sigurdsson —  Richarlison —

—– Calvert-Lewin —– 

There are still plenty of questions here, with Alex Iwobi, Tom Davies, Seamus Coleman, and Theo Walcott would love to get their places in this XI. Mina’s injury means Micheal Keane will need to find his form of last season or even the one before that (or the one before that).


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Liverpool, Leicester City, Southampton, Aston Villa, Bournemouth
Away: Norwich City, Spurs, Wolves, Sheffield United

Predicted finish: Presuming a start versus Liverpool, Everton has a chance to make a major statement to anyone who’d fathom listening. There are 12 points of the remaining 27 that really should be in the bag and another three (Leicester at Goodison) that look solid. Leave the derby out of it and the remaining three away tilts (Spurs, Wolves, Blades) are European six-pointers. Everton has one of the more interesting stories to tell when the PL resumes.

Premier League social media wrap: Antonio, Pereira urge unity

Premier League social media
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The Premier League’s social media world was again focused on activism on Wednesday.

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West Ham forward Michail Antonio’s mind is understandably still on the racial issues which have gripped the world in a particularly strong way the past nine days.

A day after all 20 Premier League clubs and a large number of players and coaches spoke out against racism, Antonio wants to make sure that people don’t think one day of speaking up is enough to change a historical struggle.

He’ll appreciate another statement from Leicester City’s squad.

The Foxes gather center circle to take a knee, with Ricardo Pereira saying “humanity coms first” and echoing Weston McKennie’s “Enough is enough” video.

A huge number of Premier League players have donated shirts for a raffle to raise funds for the National Health Services’ charities as part of their #PlayersTogether campaign.

It’s a challenge to find more Premier League stars that have not posted about #ShirtsForHeroes than those that have, so we’ll choose should-be PFA Player of the Year midfielder Kevin De Bruyne.

It must’ve been chilly in Manchester.

Odion Ighalo is clearly happy to be back with United through January after it looked like the Nigerian striker was going back to Shanghai Shenhua.

But, man, both Ighalo and Luke Shaw in the wool hats/toques/skullies/whatever you want to call them.

Christian Benteke was none-too-pleased with the hassle he got from teammate Jordan Ayew at Crystal Palace on Wednesday.

The Belgian striker’s words were in jest, no doubt, after Palace gave him photos of the club’s leading scorer taking advantage of being allowed full contact in practice.

Benteke hasn’t been scoring and will always be judged by his price tag(s), but he’s been better this season as a hold-up man and pest up top. Let’s see if he can lead the Eagles onto something special.

Eintracht nears safety with second-half surge past Bremen

Werder Bremen v. Eintracht Frankfurt recap
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Andre Silva and Stefan Ilsanker sent Eintracht Frankfurt to Bundesliga safety and sent Werder Bremen crashing to a new reality in a 3-0 at the Weserstadion on Wednesday.

Eintracht’s 35 points put it eight points clear of the bottom three with five matches to play, while Bremen’s three-match unbeaten run ends with it standing three points back of 15th-place Mainz.

Silva has scored 12 goals on loan from AC Milan, eight coming in the Bundesliga and four in the five matches since the league returned from the coronavirus pause.

For Ilsanker, his goals mark his first ever in the Bundesliga over 87 appearances, and first in any competition since scoring for RB Leipzig in the 2015-16 2.Bundesliga season.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

The first half was very cagey, with little to report aside from a penalty denied Bremen, who again looked nothing like the side that’s been in the relegation places for so much of the season.

Eintracht thought it’d gone ahead with a Dominik Kohr goal before the hour mark, but either a slight offside or handball by the passer counted against his hopes.

The visitors scored as the clock struck 60:00. Makato Hasebe starts the play and Filip Kostic crossed for Silva to head inside the near post.

Bremen boss Florian Kohfeldt responded by putting USMNT striker Josh Sargent in for Davie Selke.

Davy Klaassen wasted a 78th minute counter attack as Bremen showed some desperation and Leonardo Bittencourt hit a wayward attempt a minute later.

Ilsanker made it 2-0 within moments of subbing into the match, a Bas Dost-redirected corner kick landing in his path for a close-range finish. Fellow sub Jonathan de Guzman then spun a free kick around the fray for an emphatic Ilsanker header.

Americans Abroad: Sargent’s half-hour was non-descript. Dost flicked the corner kick before Sargent could head clear. He was eight-of-eight passing on 11 touches and completed his lone long ball. Sargent won 2-of-3 duels and drew a foul. Judging by what we saw from Davie Selke, Sargent could get another turn in the Starting XI versus Wolfsburg.

Timmy Chandler was an unused sub for Eintracht, a little over a week after playing super sub with a match-winning goal.

Crystal Palace season restart preview

Crystal Palace season restart preview
Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Crystal Palace is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Eagles when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Palace has navigated injuries and a disappointing season from superstar Wilfried Zaha to sit within striking distance, or at least hoping distance, of a place in the Europa League. The journey won’t be easy, with six of nine matches coming against top five hopefuls, but Roy Hodgson’s done a good job at Selhurst Park despite limited contributions from the center forward position.

[ MORE: Ranking every Palace player in 2019-20 ]


Tactical analysis: The club can line up in what looks to be either a 4-1-4-1 or 4-3-3 depending on what Roy Hodgson is asking of his Wilfried Zaha, Jordan Ayew, and/or Andros Townsend. Zaha hasn’t lived up to his standards this season but remains the club’s best threat, with Ayew enjoying his most productive season since leaving Ligue 1 in 2015 (or Swansea two seasons ago if you’re being generous).

A lot of of what Palace has done well this year revolves around center midfielder James McArthur and the two men who join him (some combination of Cheikhou Kouyate, Luka Milivojevic and James McCarthy).


Possible XI (4-1-4-1) 

—– Guaita —–

— Ward — Dann — Cahill — Van Aanholt —

—– McCarthy —–

— Ayew — McArthur — Kouyate — Zaha—

—– Benteke—–

McCarthy had played quite well in the three-match streak leading into the pause, and was much, much better in 2020 than he’d been while struggling for starts in the first half of the season. Gary Cahill and Scott Dann have been steady if unspectacular in front of Vincente Guaita, while Van Aanholt’s best days are still elite, if fewer and farther between. Pretty solid side and good work from Hodgson with plenty of injuries to handle over the first 29 matches.


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Burnley, Chelsea, Manchester United, Spurs
Away: Bournemouth, Liverpool, Leicester City, Aston Villa, Wolves

Predicted finish: The only thing certain is that Palace would have to fall all over itself to finish anywhere near the bottom three, even given a tricky schedule. Really, it depends upon the intensity of the competitors, because Palace is safe from relegation barring something traumatic but needs a number of signature wins to be involved in the top seven fight. And how will the Eagles react if Arsenal and Sheffield United get points from their June 17 matches-in-hand and the Europa League looks more and more an unlikely dream? Tenth seems the place, but anything can happen when eighth may be a Europa League place.