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CSKA Moscow & The Racism Problem In Russia

Conor Heffernan discusses the outrageous behaviour of certain elements in Russian football regarding racism, namely CSKA Moscow.

Manchester City travel to Russia tonight to face CSKA Moscow in a Champions League Group match. In what will be an eerie affair, the game will be played behind closed doors as punishment for the racist behaviour of CSKA fans following incidents in Rome last month.

In the past 12 months, CSKA have been sanctioned three times by UEFA for racist behaviour. Little it seems has been learnt.

CSKA has gained a reputation in Europe for intolerant fans and matters haven’t been helped by the fact that CSKA appear to be unrepentant. Club Spokesman, Sergei Aksyonov, still maintains that Yaya Toure’s claims he was racially abused by CSKA fans this time last year have been blown out of proportion. Claiming conspiracy Aksyonov argued:

“And why do they pick on us? During the return match in Manchester we heard similar things against one of our black players, we told the officials and they refused to do anything about it.”

The problem for Sergei is that CSKA are being targeted for what the a number of teams do in Russia. Namely, abuse black footballers. Racism is pervasive in Russian football and CSKA Moscow aren’t the only club with a recent past of treating players as subhuman.

When West Brom bought Peter Odemwingie in 2010 from Lokomotiv Moscow, fans unfurled a banner with a banana on it and the words “Thanks West Brom”. In possibly the worst PR move in the history of football, one Russian delegate defended the move claiming that ‘to get a banana’ is slang in Russian for being a failure. A fine explanation if not for the fact that Odemwingie had suffered racist abuse prior to leaving Russia. Bottom line, Russia is failing to confront its racism problem.

It seems that no black player in Russia escapes from the abuse. When the legendary Roberto Carlos was plying his trade Anzhi Makhachkala, he considered retiring because of the vitriol he was faced with in games. In one game bananas began to reign down from the crowds on the Brazilian leaving him visibly distraught.

One official later explained that fans “give out bananas to the players and to the match delegates and to the referees” because “bananas are a nutritious fruit and a yellow fruit, which always makes you happy.” Bananas and monkey chants are unlikely to make any black player feel happy.

The past few weeks have seen even more incidences of racism. Zenit St Petersburg’s Brazilian striker Hulk was racially abused by away fans when Spartak Moscow came to St Petersburg earlier this month. Former Blackburn and QPR defender, Christopher Samba was subjected to vile abuse while playing for Dynamo Moscow in September. When Samba reacted to the fans racially abusing him, he was banned for two matches by the Russian FA. You couldn’t make it up.

Casual racism seems to be ingrained in the mentality of some Russians and it even extends to the government. Earlier this year, a youth group supported by the Kremlin laser beamed images of US President Barack Obama eating a banana onto the wall of the US Embassy in Moscow. Subtlety is hardly a strong point for racists.

Last year Irina Rodnina, an MP with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, tweeted a photoshopped image of Obama and his wife lusting after a banana. When criticized for her insensitivity, Rodnina claimed freedom of speech protected her. She was later chosen to be a flag bearer at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. With racist attitudes being endorsed by and even emanating from the Russian government, it’s little surprise we find racism in the football stands.

Russian football fans claim that it is only a minority of supporters racially abusing players. That may be the case, but in 2014 it is simply unacceptable to abuse someone because of the colour of their skin. CSKA have been punished three times by UEFA, and it seems that little will be done by the Moscow club to ensure decency from supporters in the future.

African international sides are already threatening to boycott the 2018 World Cup should Russia not confront its racism problem. Judging by the current attitude of Russian officials and club sides, it appears little will change any time soon.

Conor Heffernan, Pundit Arena.

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