KEIR RADNEDGE in DOHA: Continuing racist behaviour by some fans in Russian domestic football has raised a disciplinary cloud on the FIFA horizon as the country prepares to host the 2018 World Cup finals.
Claudio Sulser, international striker turned lawyer, is well aware of the complications in his role as chairman of the world football federation’s disciplinary committee.
Abuse of black players, flagged up even before Russia won the hosting bid in December 2010, has continued as illustrated by incidents last month involving Hulk and Christopher Samba.
These followed critical comment from abroad, ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics, on Russia’s general attitudes on discrimination as reinforced by the ‘gay propaganda’ law.
Russian officials’ response to critical questions has been either to promise education of fans or to deny that a problem exists at all. Either way, changing the culture of Russian society is one challenge far beyond Sulser’s remit. However he is well aware that it lurks around the World Cup corner.
Sulser, on the sidelnes of the Doha Goals conference* in Qatar, said: “This is a situation we have to deal with and it’s not easy to decide. You should not forget one thing: There is the society and it is people from that society who come into the stadium.
“People cannot change just because they have come inside a stadium.”
Sulser illustrated the behavioural, hence disciplinary, challenge presented by football’s rich mixture of cultures by recalling events from the finals in Brazil last June and July.
Variety of countries
He said: “The situation with the World Cup is very difficult when it comes to the issue of discrimination because, for example, we had Brazil who were the organisers and then we had all the different countries playing.
“We had one case which involved Croatia and which was discriminatory words on a banner. But it was behind Brazilian supporters so in this case you cannot say: ‘I have to sanction the Croatia federation,’ becase we didn’t know what was really happening.
“We also had a lot of discussion about the word ‘puto’ [whore] from the Mexican fans. Our commission came to the conclusion that the word was not discriminatory because it was used every time a goalkeeper, any goalkeeper, took a goal kick. It was not used against only one particular player.”
In Brazil that legalistic stance brought Sulser into a clash of opinions, notably, with FIFA’s ‘discrimination tsar’ Jeff Webb. The CONCACAF president complained at what he considered the failure of Sulser’s committee to punish federations for what he considered offending behaviour by their teams; fans.
Sulser responded: “If you want sanctions then you have to change the provisions to cover not only discriminatory language but also inappropriate words.”
Last week in Russia a threatened players’ strike forced Rostov coach Igor Gamula to apologise for saying he would not sign a defender from Cameroon because the club has “enough dark-skinned players.” CSKA Moscow has also been ordered to play Champions League games behind closed doors because of racial abuse of visiting black players.
** Doha Goals, at Aspire, Nov 3-5 – #DohaGoals @DohaGoals
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