FIFA President Gianni Infantino was in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar on Tuesday, visiting the stadium of the city’s Russian Premier League side and surveying the scene in the country ahead of the upcoming Confederations Cup.
It was a polished occasion. Infantino smiled and posed for photos with the Russian president Vladimir Putin, and proceeded to stamp his approval on Russia’s preparations for its hosting role this and next summer.
“As FIFA president — and what is more important as a football fan, I can invite the entire world to come to Russia to watch the Confederations Cup and the World Cup games and to discover this beautiful country,” Infantino reportedly told the state-run Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
It was a glowing endorsement. But the truth is that with this summer’s Confederations Cup kicking off in less than a month, and next summer’s World Cup just over a year away, Russia has never been less fit to welcome to the world.
Put aside politics for a moment. The simple fact is that Russia that has made it abundantly clear – time and again – that non-white, non-heterosexual players and fans are not welcome within its borders.
There is a litany of reasons to be leery of Infantino’s statement inviting “the entire world” to Russia. Let’s start here: Racial abuse is rampant in the country’s footballing culture.
According to Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), the number of racist incidents at football matches in Russia is on the rise – from 80 during the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 seasons to 93 in the 2014-2015 season alone.
The opening game of the Confederations Cup is scheduled for Saint Petersburg, where supporters of the biggest local club, Zenit, issued a decree five years ago demanding the club cut ties with its black and gay players.
At Euro 2012, Russian fans racially abused Czech fullback Gebre Selassie. Christopher Samba had bananas thrown at him when he played in the Russian Premier League for Anzhi Makhachkala. Roberto Carlos was treated similarly.
Hulk, formerly of Zenit, said in 2015 that he encountered racism “in almost every game” in Russia. Spartak Moscow fans charmingly unfurled a Nazi flag during a cup game in 2013.
CSKA Moscow, the biggest club in the country’s capital city, had to play its European matches behind closed doors in 2014 due to an unrelenting series of racist and violent incidents involving its fans.