By Ryan J. Balfour
Imagine being watched all over the world on live television. Now imagine 3.2 billion viewers watching your national team as they climb to win (one of) the most desired trophy in sports, the World Cup. Now for all you Yanks, everyone else in the world “appropriately” calls it Football but I know you like your special words like soccer. Although American Football is entertaining, unfortunately, the rest of the world are stuck on football.
The World Cup occurs every four years, the past 2014 Final reached 1.013 billion viewers compared to the 2016 Super Bowl, which peaked at 111.9 million viewers. Russia is the new location for the 2018 World Cup. Billions of people will be watching the greatest sporting stage in the world, but few will see the ugly side of football, which is racism.
Russia will be broadcasted to the world, displaying the good and bad aspects of the game. Billions of fans will be watching the games but most will not know that Russia’s fans are the leading country in football racism. Hundreds of racial discrimination cases involving football are recorded every year in Russia. News stations and the general mass media have the opportunity to spotlight racism in hopes to show how terrible is really is and end it once and for all.
I argue that the answer has to do with how Russia has encountered racism that illuminates bitter divisions in Russian society using their collective memory. A collective memory observes past behaviors and can give us an insight about how a certain society remembers events that reinforce an ideology. Historically Russia had a lot of hostility towards various ethnicities. In 2006, the international human rights organization, Amnesty International, estimated that the number of Russian neo-Nazis was at approximately 85,000 in 2008.
The Russian people as a collective have a hostile feeling towards other ethnicities and we can see its appearance in football too. After Russia was chosen to host the World Cup in 2010, the head of the UEFA affiliated Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE); Dr. Pankowski accused the Russian Football Union of downplaying racial discrimination in the football stadiums. Dr. Pankowski stated;
“Nazi slogans are common in many Russian stadiums. Matches are often interrupted with racist chants aimed at black players.” (click here)
Ultimately, Russia and racism go hand in hand according to the collective memory of Russia’s society and past. This gives reason to conclude that this particular group of people that racial discriminate has been influenced from this collective memory.
Previously, Russian soccer fans have been associated with being racist more than once. Fans have acted upon these racial feelings towards black or other ethnic professional football players during games. For example, former Arsenal F.C. player Emmanuel Frimpong reported that the fans of the Russian Premier League were chanting racist monkeys calls towards him. Unfortunately, Frimpong responded to the fans, which included raising two fingers to the supporters making the racist chants (in European countries, raising two fingers is similar to flipping the bird). The result of this incident concluded in Frimpong getting a two-game suspension. Frimpong was punished for being racially abused at a soccer game in Russia and FIFA (The Fédération Internationale de Football Association) are allowing the World Cup to take place in the same location.
Another incident occurred to a famous Brazilian footballer named Hulk. He is the most expensive signing in Russian Premier League history. Hulk stated that he encounters racism in “almost every game”. Hulk also told the reporter that he fears it could tarnish the country when it hosts the 2018 World Cup.
Allowing Russia to host the 2018 World Cup is outrageous in light of their numerous racial and homophobic discrimination cases related to football all over Russia. The World Cup occurs every four years and it is going to be hosted in a country where their collective memory has a strong influence from racial discrimination and violent acts that have happened in the recent past.
Researchers from the Moscow-based SOVA Center and the FARE detailed:
“92 incidents of discriminatory displays and chants by Russian fans in and around stadiums during the 2014-15 season, against a total of 83 for the previous two seasons put together.” (click here)
In light of the upcoming World Cup in two years, I don’t think that they are prepared to host it. These offensive chants escalate into violent incidents. For example, this incident occurred where the police detained 80 fans during the game. However after the game, Russian hooligans attacked the other team in the metro station, covering the platform in blood (click here). This racially driven attack occurred a day after 50 young people attacked a rival fan base.
This issue has caused many problems and it doesn’t seem like Russia is fixing it. The Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) executive director Piara Powar stated that he understands the situation but admits there will be incidents inside and around the stadiums, then went on to state that; (click here),
“Given the closeness to the World Cup, we’re now talking about a situation where we are trying to minimize those incidents rather than eradicate them altogether.”
The director of FARE has clearly stated that there will certainly be more than one incident to occur, most likely similar or even worse compared to the racial events raised above with Frimpong and groups of fans attacking others.
To the extent in which we now know how bad racial discrimination is from the Russian soccer fans, FIFA should not allow Russia to host a tournament that will get vast coverage from all of the world’s largest media stations in the first place. I hope when the incidents occur in Russia, mass media will be reporting it all around the world for others to see how terrible racism really is in this sport and in Russia. The 2018 World Cup is going to be in Russia therefore, I would argue that the best way to respond is to have as much media coverage of the racial attacks. If the issue worsens to the extent that players or fans do not feel comfortable then a boycott should be held.
In hopes of eradicating racial discrimination, the media should show the true extent of how racial discrimination has become. Both FIFA and the European nations have taken steps forward in hopes of stopping or at least controlling racism that has recently surrounded football worldwide but it still has not been controlled in Russia. Incidents with the English Premier League team, Chelsea (pictured right), have had the most racial discrimination cases brought against their fans than any other English Premier League team. Still nothing compared to Russia but it proves that racism in soccer is still very prominent. This 2018 World Cup may not be able to stop racism completely but while the World Cup is on, media has a stage fit to show everyone that racism should not exist. Unfortunately, the media have been known to sway events in a positive outlook in order for the viewers to pretend that the negative side does not exist. In this World Cup, the ‘bad side’ would be the racism from the fans towards other fans or players. Mass media frame these racial incidents and tend not to focus on them in order to keep the popularity of viewers watching the games high. Many players that have encountered the racial discrimination first hand such as Frimpong and also Yaya Toure have spoken up.
Yaya Toure (pictured left) is a starting midfielder on one of the top 5 teams in all of the European clubs and was chanted at in a game against CSKA Moscow in 2013. If you follow English football at all, you should have heard of Yaya Toure, which makes this case even worse. Even someone that has been given so much respect from the fans and the sport in general, he still is subject to these offensive racial chants. Toure reported multiple times that the Moscow fans were chanting racial slurs at him. Ivory Coast’s key player, Yaya Toure, is now one of the leading spokesmen to end racism, particularly in football; he even stated after the CSKA Moscow game in 2013;
“If we aren’t confident at the World Cup, coming to Russia, we (Ivory Coast) don’t come” (click here).
It‘s shocking that a player of his stature should say such a devastating comment but he has a point. He also said that if not sanctions or preventative actions were to take place in Russian soccer that the black soccer players could boycott the World Cup. The national teams that have black players on their team come to Russia for the World Cup if these players are going to be subjected to being chanted at and racially discriminated against then they should boycott the tournament and have every right to do so. If one national team boycotts because of the racial turmoil it will ruin the World Cup for all its fans.
Racial discrimination cases happen in a normal Russian Premier League game, now imagine what it will be like when people from all over the world of all races come to support their nations team. The fans from all of the national teams will flood to Russia to cheer on their team but they should not be subjected to being in fear that because of their race they are at danger
Media have a lot of power to either show these incidents to the people watching or they also have the authority to dismiss them and show the viewers what they are used to seeing, which majority of the time is the game, commentators, and commercials that include the countries landscape. FIFA have known about these racial discrimination cases that can even escalate to violence. Russia should not have been selected to host the World Cup in the first place.