Racism Doesn’t Exist In Russia, Says Russian Racism Inspector

The 2018 World Cup in Russia is gonna be awfully interesting in the most awful of ways

This seems fine — Getty Images
Feb 21, 2017 at 12:00 PM ET

Hey remember back in September when FIFA disbanded its three-year-old anti-racism task force? They packed up all their studies, press-friendly advertising campaigns, and increased sanctions because, according to FIFA, they’d completed their mission, ridding the soccer world of bigotry. The reality is that, for once, FIFA made an ethically sound decision by assigning the handling of this issue to outside experts.

This decision was made despite the protests of one task force member who was concerned about the 2018 World Cup in Russia, given that the 2016 Euro Cup was marred by Russian ultras who descended upon Marseille to sling racist dreck and beat the tar out of anyone who happened to cross their path. In a recent BBC documentary, Russia’s notorious, far-right, nationalist Russian hooligans warned fans that the 2018 World Cup would be a “festival of violence.”

Well, the Russian Football Union has come up with a foolproof solution, naming retired midfielder and current MP Alexei Smertin as its new anti-racism and discrimination inspector.

Surely Smertin will be up to the task, just as soon as someone informs him that it exists, that is. As recently as 2015, Smertin was of the opinion that any charges of racism in Russia are just lies and propaganda intended to smear his home country, and even if it does occur, it’s all good, clean “fun.”

He seriously said this. This is not a parody of some clueless Russian apparatchik mouthing whatever ludicrous, patently false party line he’d been fed. Via the Guardian:

“There’s no racism in Russia, because it doesn’t exist,” he said on the BBC’s World Football programme. “It is something against the opposition, not against a person.

“Racism in Russia is like fashion,” Smertin added. “It comes from abroad, from different countries. It was never, ever here before. Ten years ago, some fans may have given a banana to black guys – it was just for fun. I think the media is making the wrong image of Russia.”

Ten years ago, eh, Alexei? In 2015, Brazilian-born Zenit Saint Petersburg striker Hulk had to deal with monkey grunts and even an “ape dance” from one laughing fan during a match in Moscow. Hulk told the BBC, “There is always something like this, coming from our opponents’ fans.” Zenit fans also wrote an open letter in 2012 asking their club not to sign any black or gay soccer players and the Russian Football Union levied a $10,000 fine against the club after a fan gave a banana to an opposing player.

Racist behavior by Russian fans is so prevalent, it’s earned it’s own long, detailed Wikipedia page, even though the listed incidents only go back to 2008. According to the advocacy network Football Against Racism in Europe, during the 2014-15 season alone, fans committed 92 discriminatory acts, a sharp increase from the 83 total incidents during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons. Smertin’s easily-debunked lies more or less mirror statements given by Russian sports officials. That is, when they’re not claiming that they only recently started to focus on the problem, and need more “sophisticated” surveillance tools – in Russia! – to really root out the racist fans. Smertin is correct about one thing, sort of: Racism in football is a worldwide problem that shows no sign of abating.

On Monday, Serbian fans unleashed such a torrent of racist abuse at midfielder Everson Luiz that he was driven from the match in tears. In a statement, Luiz said he wanted to put the incident behind him and “urge[d] everyone to say ‘No’ to racism.”

To accomplish that before the 2018 World Cup, a whole lot of racist fans may have to say “no” to soccer altogether.