Russian fans continue to attract attention for all the wrong reasons. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

FIFA announced Tuesday that it has begun disciplinary proceedings against the Russian Football Union over an incident of fan racism during a friendly between France and Russia last month in St. Petersburg, the site of seven matches at this summer’s World Cup.

Fans at the game directed monkey chants at black French players during Les Bleus’ 3-1 victory March 27, according to the Associated Press.

“A request has been made to the Interior Ministry to identify several persons who were involved in these incidents,” RFU anti-discrimination officer Alexei Smertin was quoted as saying Monday by the Tass news agency. “If these people’s guilt is proven, then there’s a high likelihood they won’t be allowed to attend World Cup and Russian league games.”

Fan racism was a problem in Russian soccer even before the country was awarded the right to host this year’s World Cup in 2010 and has continued to be an issue since then. Five years ago, Manchester City’s Yaya Toure was subjected to racist chants during a Champions League match at CSKA Moscow. Toure suggested that black players boycott the 2018 World Cup, and European soccer’s governing body forced the Russian club to play its next match in a mostly empty stadium as punishment.

Russian fans also have been found to have committed racist behavior at each of the past two European Championships, with the RFU paying a fine each time. This season alone, there have been at least three instances of fan racism in St. Petersburg, both previous times by supporters of Zenit St. Petersburg during Europa League play.

The targeted players in the March incident reportedly included two well-known French stars: Ousmane Dembele and Paul Pogba.

“I want to call on fans to stop this,” Igor Lebedev, the Russian parliament’s deputy speaker and a member of the RFU’s executive committee, said after the incident. “This is not just a problem with our fans’ perception of African American and black players. The problem is elsewhere: None of this bad behavior will stop until we start punishing it.”

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