One of the world’s biggest sporting events, the FIFA World Cup, will be hosted by Russia in 2018. This is despite the serious issues surrounding football within Russia such as the racism and homophobia which are rife at all levels of the game. There are also issues surrounding hooliganism within Russian football, which threatens the safety and comfort of those who may want to go watch the global sporting spectacle, making this one of the most controversial world cups in terms of human rights.
There are numerous cases which suggest there is a serious issue with racism within Russian football, which have given rise to the extremely negative image of Russian football around Europe, and indeed the world. The Russian FA was fined by UEFA following racist chanting from their fans during the 2012 European Championship. Domestically, there have been many comparable incidents, including high profile cases such as racism towards Roberto Carlos who had a banana thrown at him whilst playing for Anzhi Makhachkala in 2011. More recently, a similar incident occurred between FC Rostov and PSV Eindhoven in a Champions League match in October 2016. All in all, there were 92 incidents in the 2014/15 season in Russian domestic leagues, around 3 incidents for every weekend of the season, which suggests this is an epidemic within the Russian game, despite what those on the 2018 organisational committee may suggest. FIFA’s racism task force is necessary in order to stop, or at least limit, these issues in order to allow for all players and fans to attend the tournament without facing discrimination and prejudice, a right everyone should have. However, this task force was disbanded in the autumn of 2016, just 3 days after the Rostov incident, after saying their aims had been reached, clearly ignoring the statistics and stories coming out of Russia. FIFA’s actions show an apathy towards the rights of players, fans, and organisers of the tournament from different ethnic groups. Although Russia is by no means the only country with racist incidents within football culture, FIFA, in handing them the 2018 tournament, shows a clear lack of protection for the BME players. Furthermore, this shows that FIFA is failing in its objective of hosting competitions which “touch, unite and inspire the world,” as they are clearly neglecting the need to address racism, unlike UEFAs ‘No to Racism’ campaign which, despite varying success, is at least an attempt to stamp out racism. Unless something drastic is done, this competition will divide rather than unite the world by isolating large swathes of competitors and fans due to their ethnicity.
This tournament will prove divisive in more than just terms of race. Recent laws introduced in Russia seek to discriminate against homosexuals through banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.” These laws prevent teachers from speaking of homosexuality as normal, clearly discriminating against the LGBTI community and spreading hate and misinformation throughout the country. Furthermore, Moscow Gay Pride was banned for 100 years in 2012 by a Moscow court, not only limiting LGBTI rights, but more generally the right of free speech. Gay rights protesters have also been attacked during their protests, with little police presence or indeed interest, to help prevent the violence. One such incident occurred in Moscow in the aftermath of the laws passed in 2013, prompting suggestions that violence against LGBTI groups is actually encouraged by the state. Although the tournament will see a large police presence, incidents such as this do not project an image of safety for those planning to attend the tournament. FIFA, through giving Russia the right to host, have placed homosexual players, fans, organisers, and anyone else involved with the tournament in a position wherein they will have their rights suppressed in order to enjoy the spectacle FIFA has a duty of care for those who go to their events and they have placed LGBTI fans in this dangerous position by giving a state with such institutional repression the right to host such an event.
Adding further fuel to this fire is the hooliganism that is prevalent in Russian football which will create an incredibly hostile atmosphere for any football fan, let alone BME or LGBTI fans when considering the racist and homophobic sentiments. In the 2016 European Championship, a new type of hooliganism was brought to the tournament by Russian supporters. In Marseilles, 2,000 English supporters were attacked by 200 Russian ‘supporters’ acting in a paramilitary fashion. This organised hooliganism caused carnage in Marseilles, though there were so few of them; the violence in Russia itself could be larger still. This new brand of hooliganism, mixed with the prevalent racism and homophobia, does not project warmth to visiting fans, especially for those being discriminated against who will not feel welcome or safe at the 2018 tournament. FIFA has therefore created a situation in which minorities will be uncomfortable playing and spectating at one of their tournaments, highlighting their apathy towards the rights of everyone to access the game.
This is amid controversy over the rights of the workers building the stadiums for the Qatar world cup, another example of neglect by the governing body, discussed in a previous Protocol article. FIFA needs to consider human rights when looking into the bids of countries and investigations into a country’s attitude towards civil rights need to be made prior to the bid. Throughout the build up to the tournament, if the rights of anyone involved is being threatened, then some course of action should be taken, and in some cases, the tournaments should be relocated in order to avoid the discrimination some will face when travelling to support their country.
Some clubs, such as CSKA Moscow, have been working with UEFA, the European governing body, in their ‘No to Racism’ campaign, in order to promote inclusivity in the game. To find out more about the ‘No to Racism’ campaign, please visit this website. For further information on the Russian legislation concerning human rights visit the Amnesty International UK website.