Russia’s place in the soccer world hasn’t been a bastion of civil rights, and at least one FIFA executive fears that it could keep black players away from the 2018 World Cup.
According to a report from the Associated Press, FIFA anti-racism adviser Tokyo Sexwale is worried that continued racial incidents involving Russian fans, players and coaches will stop black players from coming to Russia. He’s asking Russian president Vladimir Putin to step in to fix the problem.
Most recently, a Russian Premier League team’s players have stopped going to training after their coach, Igor Gamula, referred to black players as “things” and made an Ebola joke at a press conference.
Sexwale, a South African former Robben Island political prisoner, is against boycotts but expressed concerns in an interview with The Associated Press that “there are certain parts (of Moscow where) if you are my color it’s unsafe.”
Sexwale says “there is a threat black players will say they are not going,” believing Russia will be “boycotted by the victim because people will lose confidence in the Russian (football) federation.”
Although UEFA has punished Russian clubs for racism at Champions League matches in recent years, the national federation has appeared less willing to tackle abuse.
Boycotting an appearance at the World Cup would be a major stand and statement by any player set to make their squad, but are Sexwale’s concerns founded in any fact? It’s difficult to imagine a revolt on that scale when FIFA is very slow to move against any perceived bad PR (see: Qatar 2022).