There were 89 racist and far-right incidents at Russian games in the 2016-17 season according to new data collected by the Moscow-based SOVA Centre.
The report, which comes a year ahead of the World Cup, covers two seasons – 2015/16 and 2016/17. It is the fifth season Fare has looked at Russian football during which the response of the Russian authorities has moved from outright denial to understanding some of the issues the country faces and the appointment of Alexey Smertin as anti-racism inspector.
“The Russian football authorities and the government authorities have realised that the World Cup will be tarnished by the fear of racism taking place and they have taken some quite strong measures,” Fare Executive Director Piara Powar said.
“However there still remains the danger of incidents taking place.”
Russian authorities have taken measures to ban at least 191 fans from attending sports events, while the Russian Football Union (RFU) ejected the influential fan leader, Alexander Shprygin, from its organisation. He was deported twice from France last year following violence around Russia’s match with England at the European Championship, and was a known sympathizer of the far-right.
Throughout the 2016/17 season the most common issues identified at top-flight games were far-right banners with concealed messages such as runes and number codes used by Nazi and ultra-nationalist groups.
The RFU punished two clubs in the 2015-16 season for such banners, but didn’t pursue any such cases this season — something which Powar says indicates it may be “turning a blind eye.”
Links between clubs and far-right hooligans
The report highlights the phenomena of fans detained in France after violence at Euro 2016 employed by leading Russian clubs with responsibility for fan liaison.
Officials appoint leaders of hooligan firms to work with fans as a strategy to control the most troublesome far-right and violent fans. Instead it supports and strengthens the dominance of far-right groups on the terraces.
Anti-semitism and call for “Slavs-only”
That was despite cases of anti-Semitic banners being flown by Spartak fans, including taunts aimed at rival CSKA Moscow, whose club president and then-coach are both Jewish. Another Spartak banner showed a Russian rock singer caricaturised as an Orthodox Jew, accompanied by personal abuse.
CSKA fans also targeted their own coach, Leonid Slutsky — now at England’s Hull City — with a banner linking his Jewish faith to poor results.
There are indications that football-related violence between different ethnic groups in Russia is becoming more entrenched, with fans from Russia’s largely Muslim regions in the North Caucasus forming “fan groups which adopt football hooligans’ rules and initiate fights with Moscow teams.”
In another case last month at a playoff game for a place in the Russian Premier League, one fan group from the Yenisei Krasnoyarsk team issued a statement on social media saying that its sector of the stadium was only available to fans of “Slavic appearance.”
SOVA under threat
The report continues the work initiated by Fare and the SOVA Centre in 2012, taken together the reports present a comprehensive assessment of the patterns and features of discrimination in Russian football between 2012 and 2015. The initiative has come under pressure from the Russian government through the declaration of the Centre as a ‘foreign agent’ late last year. This label is a direct challenge to their work and may restrict their ability to operate within Russia in the future.