Racism in World Cup hosts Russia is a “big challenge” ahead of the 2018 tournament, said FIFA anti-racism chief Jeffrey Webb, who urged clubs to tackle the problem from the “dressing- room out.”
Webb, chairman of FIFA’s Anti-Racism and Discrimination Task Force said on Friday the Russian authorities had acknowledged the problem and are committed to dealing with it.
“They are going to start addressing it. We are going to work with them hand-inhand,” Webb said.
The CONCACAF president added that educational activities had to be at the center of the initiative.
“Education, it has to be education.
You are not born that way, it is something you are taught, someone teaches you to hate or to develop a certain way, we have to go into the communities,” he said, adding that soccer could learn something from the way American athletes work in their localities.
“You also look at the way that professional athletes in this country embrace their communities, the way they go into the inner cities, the way they work, their foundations and so forth.
“Start talking, educate, they have so much power. We have to do it from the inside, out.
You have to do it in the dressing room, make sure that level of education is there... and then at the entire club. When you impact the club, you impact the stadium, you impact the community.
It has to start with coaches, players – first in that dressing room – when that is there it spreads out,” he added.
Last October, Zenit St Petersburg’s Brazil forward Hulk and Dynamo Moscow’s French-born Congo defender Christopher Samba were the target of monkey chants from Spartak and Torpedo Moscow fans, respectively, during Russian Premier League games.
Manchester City’s Ivorian midfielder Yaya Toure was also subjected to monkey chants from the stands in October 2013 during a Champions League game at CSKA Moscow’s Khimki Arena.
One footballer who has played in Russia is Samuel Eto’o.
Last week in London he was awarded the European Medal of Tolerance from the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation (ECTR), for his work combating racism.
The Cameroon international has played in the best leagues in the world – England, Italy and Spain – as well as a spell in Russia with Anzhi Makhachkala. He is one of the most successful African soccer stars of all time.
Eto’o has been the victim of racist abuse, most famously when he played for Barcelona in 2006. He was subjected to “monkey chants” and came close to leaving the field. He was convinced by his coach and fellow players to stay, and ended up winning the game.
In 2010, this time while playing in the Italian league’s Inter Milan, Eto’o was again subjected to racist chanting which caused a three-minute stoppage to the contest.
The ECTR is a non-governmental organization comprised of former world leaders and other senior public figures. Dr. Moshe Kantor, president of the ECTR, said that the award was to honor and reward the promotion of tolerance and reconciliation.
“Samuel is being awarded the Medal of Tolerance because of his personal leadership and devotion to combating manifestations of racism and intolerance.
Personally a victim of many racist incidents, he has found the courage and will to stand against the racists, building awareness and inspiring fellow footballers and millions of football fans.” Kantor said.
Now Eto’o is urging authorities to impose tougher laws and to ban racist football fans from games for life.
Eto’o believes that racism is not just soccer’s problem but one that society as a whole must combat.
“You have to understand that football is just a reflection of what we have in society,” Eto’o said recently in an interview to CNN. “It’s not that football is here and society is here – no, it’s a reflection of what goes on in society.”
A few years back Eto’o was quoted as saying he did not want his kids to come to the stadiums to watch him being booed and subjected to racist abuse.
Back to Russia and the World Cup, Eto’o plays down fears of issues of racism during the tournament.
“Playing in Russia was one of the best experiences of my career. I’ve heard stories that didn’t go as well as mine but I’d really like people to go there because they are really nice people.”
According to a report published earlier this month by the FARE network, an anti-racism body, and the Sova Center, which conducts research on nationalism and racism, there were more than 200 cases of discriminatory behavior within the Russian game over two seasons.
The fans of CSKA Moscow, one of Russia’s most famous clubs, have been serial offenders in terms of racism with UEFA, the game’s European governing body, handing out punishments on numerous occasions.
“At the World Cup in Russia, you’ll see that there won’t be incidents like this,” Eto’o added.Reuters contributed to this report.