World Cup boycott of Russia in 2018 would be a very powerful response to the racist abuse from CSKA supporters
Yaya Touré has raised a very powerful idea in response to the racist abuse from supporters of CSKA Moscow, that players of African heritage could refuse to participate in the 2018 World Cup in Russia because of endemic racism in the country. There can be no meaningful World Cup without those players, and this idea, of a World Cup boycott if the issue is not adequately addressed, should be taken absolutely seriously and focus everybody’s minds.
Uefa has strengthened its response to racist incidents, introducing new regulations at its London congress in May after many years of lobbying by campaigners and criticism of Uefa’s action in the past. The messages coming from the very top of Uefa are now in keeping with the leadership that international bodies need to be giving.
CSKA Moscow should face due process for what happened against Manchester City, and, having now been charged, be sanctioned if Uefa’s disciplinary procedure finds that the CSKA supporters were guilty of racial abuse. Uefa’s rules allow a partial stadium closure to be enforced at a club’s next European match for a first offence, and for a second or more serious incident a club must play in a completely empty stadium and be fined €50,000 (£43,000). If racism persists, the club can be made to forfeit a match, have points deducted or be thrown out of the competition.
We called for these sanctions and believe they are strong because an empty or partially empty stadium is an embarrassment to a club and country, and encourages individuals and institutions to face up to the problem. When the sanction has been applied we have seen it prompt a debate, sometimes a very difficult and painful debate, against the behaviour which led to the stadium closure. It can also encourage supporters to self-police racists, as they do quite well in England and very well in Germany, where other fans voice their disapproval.
Uefa has already shown it is prepared to apply these penalties, early into this season requiring Legia Warsaw to close their north stand and fining them after racist incidents in their Champions League qualifying matches.
Next month Lazio must close the curva nord at their stadium for a Europa League match, after one of our observers reported to Uefa racist abuse in their match in September, in fact against Legia Warsaw.
In Moscow Yaya Touré did everything right, by his actions and words. He reported the abuse directed at him to the referee, which means the incident will form part of Uefa’s official match delegate’s report and has resulted in CSKA Moscow being charged. It may have taken years of these incidents going on without sanction, but Uefa is now standing up more strongly to racism, and to the old accusation that its responses were inadequate.
That opens up bigger and very significant questions, of the work governments need to do, to educate people, which is the only way to change attitudes and discriminatory behaviour.
In some eastern European countries we have seen complex political and historical allegiances associated with the far-right which can find expression among neo-Nazi and other extreme football fan groups, and on Wednesday night in Moscow we saw a banner in support of Golden Dawn, the Greek far-right party whose leaders are currently being prosecuted for very serious offences. We have found some clubs encourage these fans, giving them tickets, even paying them, to create noise and lead chants in stadiums.
We need governments, in Russia, across eastern Europe and elsewhere, to engage fully with this – not just clamp down, but bring forward social and educational programmes to work with supporters. We need international bodies working across nation states to make tackling intolerance in sport a priority.
The German example is good, where teams of fan workers partly paid for by the football authorities, partly by the government, work with ultra fans, including individuals at risk of far-right ideologies, to help them channel their passionate support for their club constructively. Governments and other areas of civil societies need to realise the scale of the problem they have, and work seriously to get at the root of the problem
If not enough is done, if we will not see the social change needed and the type of incidents we are seeing persist, then players like Yaya Touré of African heritage would be absolutely within their rights to refuse to play at the World Cup. This abuse has been going on for three generations of players and it seems they are not prepared to put up with it any more.
Piara Powar is executive director of the Fare Network of anti-discrimination organisations working in football across 23 countries
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