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Russia names Smertin as anti-racism watchdog

Moscow (AFP) – Russian football has put former Chelsea midfielder Alexei Smertin in charge of its investigations into racism as the country seeks to clean its image ahead of the World Cup next year.

Smertin, also an ex-captain of the national team, has been named inspector on racism and discrimination. He has in the past denied that the country has a problem.

“I will do my best to leave no place for racism and discrimination in the football history of my country,” Smertin, who also played for Fulham and the French side Bordeaux, said in a statement.

“Moments of intolerance to racial differences that occur in the world of football are a major international problem.”

Widespread racism in Russian football is in the  international microscope in the run-up to the World Cup. Authorities are often accused of turning a blind eye to abuse of black players.  

Smertin stirred controversy by insisting that racism “does not exist” in his homeland and that the media was misrepresenting the abuse.  

“There’s no racism in Russia, because it does not exist,” Smertin, who turned to politics after retiring in 2008, told the BBC in a 2015 interview. 

“Racism in Russia is like fashion. It comes from abroad, from different countries,” he said.

“It was never, ever here before. Ten years ago, some fans may have given a banana to black guys – it was just for fun.”

Russia will host the World Cup between June 14 and July 15 at 12 stadiums in 11 cities including Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Kazan and Sochi. 

The four cities are also the hosts of the 2017 Confederations Cup that kicks off on June 17, with the final in Saint Petersburg on July 2.

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