FOOTBALL: Former Blackburn defender Christopher Samba says he has no intention of quitting Russia despite being targeted by racists since his transfer to Anzhi Makhachkala.
Congo-born Samba had a banana thrown at him after a match at Lokomotiv Moscow last month, one of a spate of racists incidents since the Russian league season resumed last month.
"I feel extremely passionately about racism in football and will never let the small community of racists break me," Samba said. "I'm a strong character and will keep fighting for my team."
Samba, who left Rovers in February to join the club managed by former Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink, said that overall his experience in Russia has been positive despite being targeted.
"I am thoroughly enjoying my time in Russia and, although I was of course angry at the racism incident, along with the rest of the football world, racist issues here are no different to what I have experienced in other countries," Samba said.
Russia is due to host the World Cup in 2018 and the country's Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko has pledged to tackle the problem.
However doubts remain over his ability to do so, especially in light of the Russian Football Union (RFU) president Sergey Fursenko's claim that none of the the clubs in Russia has a problem with racism.
"I'm absolutely convinced that we don't have a single club with a racist orientation, or that has showed racial intolerance," Fursenko said.
Yet racism has become engrained in some of the country's fan clubs, with ultranationalists and neonazis taking a prominent role.
Samba's team-mate Roberto Carlos, formerly of Real Madrid, had bananas thrown at him twice last year, while in 2010 Lokomotiv Moscow fans directed a banner depicting a banana at Nigerian striker Peter Odemwingie, who now plays for West Brom.
Last weekend Spartak Moscow striker Emmanuel Emenike was racially abused by Zenit St Petersburg fans, whose club have never signed a black player.
Zenit's former manager Dick Advocaat once admitted that he would like to sign black footballers, but that the club's fans would never accept one.
Russia's hosting of the World Cup looks set to be overshadowed by the issue of racism, though the RFU and the Russian Premier League have unveiled a task force to tackle the issue, while Spartak Moscow owner Leonid Fedun announced a fund to help.
Sports Minister Mutko maintains a belief that the problem can be cracked. "I don't see any hopelessness in it (the situation)," Mutko said.
"The process of preparing for the World Cup will force through solutions to these problems."
He added: "Fans, cities, stadiums and society will all get involved... and the championship itself, in the course of its preparations, will try to solve these issues one by one."
However Mutko also believes that Russian clubs need to take a strong position on racism and should not neccessarily wait for the country's football authorities to act first.
"I agree with Fedun that clubs should take an active position," he said. "They shouldn't shout at someone: 'Hey you, officials, solve this problem, pass some law or something!' You write the laws, you study the experience."