Russian club CSKA Moscow received the tamest of punishments for alleged racist abuse by its fans on Wednesday, as soccer's governing bodies again failed to address one of the sport's most pressing issues.
After an investigation into the treatment of Manchester City's Yaya Toure at a Champions League game at CSKA's Kimkhi Stadium last week, CSKA was ordered to conduct a "partial stadium closure" for its next match in the competition against Bayern Munich on November 27.
In real terms, it means that just one end block of the venue will be shut off to supporters. It's a pointless and meaningless decree that will do nothing to deter a repeat of racist actions in the future.
Racism in Russian soccer is not a new phenomenon and several players have complained in the past of suffering at the hands of bigoted fans. Superstars such as Brazilians Roberto Carlos and Vagner Love and several African players have received xenophobic taunts, with reports of racist chanting dating back many years.
The frustrating thing is that the authorities have the correct mechanisms in place to reduce such ugly scenes, but are loath to pull the trigger.
During City's 2-1 victory over CSKA on October 23, Toure complained to the referee about being targeted by monkey chanting. However, stadium officials did not follow the proper procedure of issuing a warning to fans over the loudspeakers.
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European governing body UEFA, which controls the Champions League, could have ordered CSKA to play its next home game with a full stadium closure, meaning the match would take place behind closed doors and with no fans present. The ensuing loss of revenue from ticket sales and the disadvantage of missing out on being supported by a passionate home crowd would be the strongest encouragement possible to CSKA to deal with its miscreant members.
Similarly, fans thinking of conducting themselves in such a way would know there are serious and real repercussions to fear. Being locked out of watching your team play is the worst punishment imaginable for most supporters.
But weak messages such as UEFA's partial closure almost do more harm than good. CSKA, and the fans who spewed hatred at Toure, can laugh at this punishment and treat it for what it is – nothing more than the softest slap on the wrist.
The approach from world governing body FIFA, and its controversial president Sepp Blatter, has likewise done little to instill confidence that taking a serious stance on racism is near.
After a furious Toure insisted that black players could choose to withdraw from the World Cup when it is staged in Russia in 2018, Blatter only claimed that "a boycott has never been any solution." He did admit that more needs to be done and vowed to take action.
"What we shall do is be very tough," Blatter said this week. "We need to eliminate teams from a competition or deduct points. Only by such decisions is it possible to go against racism and discrimination."
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However, his comments could be taken more as a swipe against UEFA – whose president Michel Platini will battle Blatter for the FIFA presidency in 2015 – instead of a realistic blueprint for change, as FIFA itself cannot throw teams out of events like the Champions League.
For all of Blatter's words, FIFA has been as culpable as anyone in failing to combat racism in soccer. In this instance, though, it wields ultimate power over soccer in Russia and could issue the threat of removing its World Cup privileges unless there is improvement.
That, however, is a step Blatter was not prepared to take.
"We cannot go to any society where something happened and ask them to stop," Blatter said. "That is not the duty or the responsibility or even the right of FIFA to do so."
Back in the bleak days of the 1980s when hooliganism and racism were rampant in European soccer, it was as difficult to see a brighter future as it is now with the game in Russia. But things can change, and they have elsewhere.
What soccer needs is what is lacking now – forceful penalties and strong action from those with the power at their fingertips.
- Sports & Recreation
- Yaya Toure
- Sepp Blatter