With just more than a year to go before the 2018 World Cup, Russia, which will host the event, still appears to be eons away from promising an environment free of racism.
The latest proof came over the weekend when a handful of Russians wearing blackface marched in a government-sponsored parade to celebrate the upcoming Confederations Cup, a test tournament held a year before the World Cup. Other parade participants meant to symbolize the African nation, which will face Germany in the tournament next month, wore Afro wigs and carried bananas during the “Carnaval Sochi Fest” parade that was led by Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov on Saturday.
“[Russians] don’t understand that it’s an issue to have blackface and then have bananas along with it, you know?” Lolade Adewuyi, a Nigerian journalist who attended the parade told the Associated Press on Tuesday.
“They don’t see it,” he added, noting he believes the group on Saturday didn’t mean to offend anyone.
That some factions of Russian society can still be so clueless when it comes to perpetuating racial stereotypes will likely come as a disappointment to FIFA, which in 2013, set up an anti-racism task force to help curb exactly this type of behavior in world soccer. FIFA, however, disbanded the group last year, declaring it “has completely fulfilled its mission.”
Some members of the task force publicly disagreed with that declaration, including British-Nigerian journalist Osasu Obayiuwana, who told the Guardian last year that racism in soccer remained “a burning, very serious and topical” problem in need of “continuous attention.”
Obayiuwana, who remains outspoken on the issue of racism in world soccer, addressed Saturday’s parade on Twitter as well, calling it “an act of racism/ignorance.”
— Osasu Obayiuwana (@osasuo) May 30, 2017
Russia is not the only European country that continually sees problems with racism in soccer. There have been incidents all around the continent affecting players as popular as Neymar, one of Barcelona’s star strikers. The 25-year-old Brazilian was reportedly the target of racist chants earlier this year by fans of the Catalan city’s other team Espanyol. There have also been incidents of racism in Italy, Germany, England, France and other European locales.
While FIFA is now doing little to stave off such incidents, other countries have fought back, including being less lenient in levying fines on teams whose fans engage in racist behavior, as well as initiating education campaigns, some of which have been unique in nature.
For all its ongoing problems, Russian soccer’s governing body still appears to be doing something on paper. In February, the country installed a new anti-racism and discrimination inspector whose goal is to “put every effort into keeping racism and discrimination out of the story of football” in the country.
While that sounds nice, the execution might prove difficult as the man installed in that role, ex-Chelsea midfielder Alexei Smertin, once declared, “There’s no racism in Russia, because it does not exist.”
Perhaps he got the proof he needed Saturday.