RUSSIA put a former footballer who has previously denied that racism exists in Russia in charge of investigating racism in Russian football yesterday.
Alexei Smertin insisted his new role as Russian Football Union anti-racism and discrimination inspector means he will “put every effort into keeping racism and discrimination out of the story of football in my country.”
Looking to the 2017 Confederations Cup and 2018 World Cup in Russia, Smertin said his country “should be an example of global tolerance both on and off the football field. And we will definitely show that.”
But the former Russia international struck a rather different tone when speaking to the BBC in 2015.
“There’s no racism in Russia, definitely, because you know it does not exist,” he said. “It’s just like a fashion. It comes from abroad, from different countries.”
Smertin told the BBC some Russian fans had taunted black players with bananas “just for fun” and that racist chants were meant by Russian fans to distract black players on the opposing side, rather than as personal abuse.
The appointment raised eyebrows for equality and inclusion group Kick It Out. “Such an important appointment requires strong and decisive leadership ahead of the World Cup,” the organisation told the Star.
“One would hope Mr Smertin acknowledges there is an issue after his laughable and inaccurate comments in 2015.
“Evidence clearly shows discrimination is still a problem within Russian football. With time ticking down to the [World Cup] it is crucial the Russian authorities make it clear that discrimination won’t be accepted in any shape or form.
“We hope Mr Smertin makes an active contribution to a welcoming and inclusive World Cup.”
Campaign group Fare reported 92 incidents of discriminatory displays and chants by Russian fans in and around stadiums during the 2014-15 season, the last for which figures are available.