Staunton, May 14 – The exposure of how Putin’s FSB helped Russian athletes to take performance-enhancing drugs at the Sochi Olympiad is sparking calls to ban them from the Rio Olympiad. But there is another problem that should cause the international community to strip Russia of the right to host the 2018 World Cup – increasingly racist behavior by Russian fans.
Not only would such an action strike at one the key ways Vladimir Putin has used “bread and circuses” to boost his authority, but it would send a clear message that the world is not going to tolerate the kind of vicious racism not only on view at Russian sporting events but quite often not blocked or even overlooked by Russian officials.
And there is an even more compelling reason to take such steps against Russia and racist Russian fans: all too often, as rights activists have documented, racist football fans contribute to and draw some of their own strength from racist extremists and political movements in Russian society at large
Yesterday, the SOVA analytic center which monitors racist actions in Russian society published a review of these events, a release prompted by the recent attack on Central Asians by Russian football fans who wanted to have “a whites’ only car” on the Moscow subway (sova-center.ru/racism-xenophobia/publications/2016/05/d34534/).
This is hardly the first time that “ultra-right fans” have taken their views and actions “beyond the borders of the stadiums into the streets,” SOVA says, and it lists six especially egregious cases in recent years as well as pointing to its earlier more detailed chronologies of such events (sova-center.ru/files/xeno/Russia_monitoring12-14_RU.pdf and sova-center.ru/files/xeno/Russia_RU_final.pdf).
“The deep and firm connections between the milieu of aggressive football fans and organizations of right-wing radicals has been tracked already for a long time,” SOVA says. And This connection is “not surprising” given that both want to use racism to unite their side against those they view as aliens.
“Of course,” the monitoring organization says, “far from all football fans are racist, and the level of interest in football in each group of neo-Nazis and each participant in such groups varies. But numerous examples show that namely the right radicals influence football fans more than others” and that “often” racist football fans take part in neo-Nazi actions far from stadiums.
The Russian authorities have taken some measures to rein in fans and especially to punish those who link up with neo-Nazi groups, SOVA says; and as a result, the number of such crimes has declined over the last year, something Russian sports officials have proudly celebrated and even claimed that they have “put an end” to racism among Russian football fans.
“But the recent case involving attacks on migrants in a Moscow metro car shows that this is far from being the case,” SOVA concludes. And while it does not raise the issue, those who want to stand against racism and fascism as well should put the Russian government on notice that unless it does more, Moscow will lose the right to host the 2018 World Cup.