Manchester City’s Yaya Toure has suggested that black players could boycott the 2018 World Cup in Russia unless the country tackles the issue of racism in football.
“If we aren’t confident at the World Cup, coming to Russia, we don’t come,” the Ivorian midfielder was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency.
This is in the wake of Uefa investigating Toure’s complaint that he was the target of racial abuse by some sections of the CSKA fans during last Wednesday’s Champions League game in Moscow.
Kick It Out chairman Lord Ouseley has stated that the referee who officiated at that match, Ovidiu Hategan, should not officiate again after failing to deal with racist abuse.
Ouseley told the BBC that Hategan had “failed to do his duty”.
The official, a FIFA referee since 2008, was also in charge of the match where Lazio fans were found guilty of racist behaviour towards Tottenham players in the Europa League last season.
FIFPro, the global union for professional footballers, said it was “disappointed” match officials failed to implement agreed protocol following the Toure incident.
FIFPro European president Bobby Barnes said: “The player, having done what was asked of him to notify the referee, quite rightly expected that the referee would go speak with the safety officer.
“The protocol agreed is that the safety officer should make a stadium announcement warning the fans that if the chants do not desist that the game will be stopped.”
CSKA deny the allegation that any racist chanting took place and do not acknowledge that there is a problem with their fans.
A club statement read:
“Having carefully studied the video of the game, we found no racist insults from fans of CSKA.
“[On] many occasions, especially during attacks on our goal, fans booed and whistled to put pressure on rival players, but regardless of their race.
“In particular, this happened with Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko. Why the Ivorian midfielder took it as all being directed at him is not clear.”
The statement added that CSKA had never been sanctioned for racist abuse while competing in Europe and that the club will “continue to fight” racism.
However, if the club is found guilty, Uefa could force CSKA to close part of its stadium for a future game.
There is a precedent for this in other Eastern European countries as Dinamo Zagreb of Croatia, Legia Warsaw of Poland and Honved of Hungary have already had full stadium closure orders where they have had to play games behind closed doors.
Elsewhere, Italian side Lazio were originally given a full stadium closure that was reduced to a partial closure on appeal, Polish clubs Lech Poznan and Piast Gliwice, APOEL Nicosia of Cyprus and Croatian outfit HNK Rijeka have also had sections of their stands closed for matches after problems with their fans.
Piara Powar, executive director of European anti-discrimination body Football Against Racism in Europe (Fare) and a member of Fifa’s anti-discrimination taskforce, backed Toure’s stance:
“Yaya Toure is absolutely right in raising the spectre of African players or players of African heritage not going to the 2018 World Cup – and without them there will not be a World Cup in Russia.
“I wouldn’t blame them – in this era players are the most powerful force and if all the players said they are not going there wouldn’t be a World Cup, or if there was it would be meaningless.”
Powar stated that he did not envisage overt racism at the World Cup in Russia, but he did claim that the situation in the country’s domestic football is “dire” and fuelled by far-right extremists:
“In terms of the number of black players being abused, that is happening in club football in Russia and in that regard the situation is dire.”
Incidents of racism and far right extremism are being reported more and more at football matches across Europe.
Fare has identified banners supporting the Greek far-right political party Golden Dawn – which has a swastika-like symbol – being displayed in several stadiums in Eastern Europe including Russia in the last month.
FIFA need to follow Uefa’s lead and act quickly on this issue.
Uefa announced back in May that for cases of racist incidents involving spectators a partial stadium closure would be applied for the first offence and a full stadium closure for a second, coupled with a fine of 50,000 Euros (£42,800).
Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Maria Miller told BBC Sport:
“Any form of racism in sport is absolutely unacceptable and I think any allegation of this sort needs to be investigated in full and Uefa needs to take it very seriously indeed.
“When countries like Russia are going to be very shortly hosting the World Cup, it’s important we know a tough line is going to be taken.”
The World Cup 2018 organisers issued their own statement in response to Toure’s allegations:
“It is worth restating that all stakeholders in Russian Football have made it clear that there is absolutely no place for any type of racial discrimination or abuse in our game.
“What is clear is that football is uniquely positioned to educate fans in combating this global issue.
“The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, in particular, can act as a catalyst to positively change the mindsets and behaviour across all involved in Russian Football over the next four years.”
This would seem to be a tacit admission that the problem exists in the Russian game.