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Last Updated: Sunday, 6 July, 2003, 10:29 GMT 11:29 UK
Tackling racism in Russian football

By Sarah Rainsford
BBC Moscow correspondent

The football authorities in Moscow are launching a drive to tackle the problem of racism in the Russian game.

An influx of sponsors means the country's clubs now have a lot of transfer money to burn - and many managers have begun looking overseas for talent.

More than 200 foreign footballers now play in Russia; more than a quarter are from Africa. But not everyone here has made the foreigners welcome.

Russian football fans
Young skinhead supporters easily influenced by hooligans

Cameroonian defender Jerry Christian Tschuisse now plays for premier league side Chernomorets FC, in southern Russia.

Striding onto the pitch at Moscow's Luzhniki stadium he was back in the capital last week to face his old club, Spartak. After the game Tschuisse admitted he had endured enough racist taunts in Russia to fill an entire book.

"I've had bananas thrown at me on the pitch" he said. "People shouting at me: 'Oi, black guy, what are you doing in here?' And there have been fights, too."

So when the Russian Football Union approached him to take part in a showcase match aimed at kicking racism out of the game, Tschuisse agreed.

"I think it's a good idea, and you never know, it might actually change something."

Getting worse

Russia is no stranger to the ugly face of the beautiful game.

Riots erupted in the centre of Moscow last summer after Russia's World Cup defeat to Japan. Cars were set-alight and shops ransacked, in some of the worst football violence ever seen in the city.

Cameroonian defender Jerry Christian Tschuisse
Tschuisse admitted he had endured enough racist taunts

But a minority of the rioters had a different target.

Sections of the fans chanted Russia for the Russians - bystanders from India and China fell victim to the violence.

At Bor sports complex, buried deep in the forests to the south of Moscow, two squads of footballers prepare to tackle racist attitudes head-on.

Perfecting their passes with a rapid-fire game are Russian premier league players from Brazil and Cameroon, Senegal and South Africa.

They are gearing-up to take on the Russian national side, and call on the fans to stamp out racism at its roots.

Alexander Chernov watches the joint warm-up from the sidelines. The Russia manager accepts the football authorities have a serious problem.

"Racism is here," he says. "It's growing, and we have to control it as soon as possible. So this match is just the first step."

The Russian Football Union hopes to continue the campaign by taking footballers into schools to promote their message.

The majority of supporters here don't like black players at all,e
Alexander Bogomolov
Football journalist

As the fans begin to gather for the big match at the Lokomotiv ground draped in their national flag, it is clear who most of them are supporting.

Despite an abundance of cheap tickets, Russian football still attracts nothing like the crowds seen at games in Britain, but there is a hard-core following that is apparently determined to make its mark.

Most of the fans making their way to the terraces are teenage boys; many are skinheads. Police officers at the turnstiles confiscate dozens of bananas.

"We make monkey noises, or call the black players chocolate!" one young fan claims proudly, and his friends laugh in support.

"Russia is for the Russians," he explains. "Foreign players are fine, but only if they're white."

Football journalist Alexander Bogomolov says this is a common reaction.

"The majority of supporters here don't like black players at all," he explains.

"They think it's better to see 11 Russian players, even if they are not very good, than to see half a team consisting of black footballers."

Long struggle

Mr Bogomolov says the problem at some clubs is now so severe staff have had to hire guards to protect black players from the fans.

Young skinhead supporters are easily influenced by a minority of hard-core hooligans who have no time for tolerance.

Inside the ground, an enormous Russian flag is stretched over the stands surrounded by smaller flags from the countries represented on the field.

The UEFA slogan Unite Against Racism is pasted on navy blue banners throughout the stadium.

When Russia scores, the terraces explode in applause. For once the fans are on their best behaviour.

But for most in the stands it is the goals that count, not the slogan on the sidelines. Their grasp of that message remains hazy at best.

Purging the Russian game of prejudice promises to be a long, hard struggle.


SEE ALSO:
Racism on the rise in Russia
16 Jul 02  |  Europe
Moscow race hate runs deep
20 Apr 02  |  Europe



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