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Page last updated at 05:55 GMT, Thursday, 2 September 2010 06:55 UK

Russia World Cup bid chief defends racism track record

Lokomotic Moscos fans display a banner showing a banana and the words "Thanks West Brom"
Lokomotiv Moscow fans' parting message to Peter Odemwingie

By Rafael Saakov and John Sinnott

The head of Russia's 2018 World Cup bid has defended the country's track record in dealing with racism in football.

Alexei Sorokin denies Russian football has a problem with racist fans, despite recent controversy in a league game.

Lokomotiv Moscow fans celebrated Peter Odemwingie's sale in the transfer window with a banner showing a banana and the message: "Thanks West Brom".

Lokomotiv escaped sanction, but Sorokin told BBC Sport: "The RFU doesn't accept any demonstrations of racism."

The Russian Football Union's (RFU) disciplinary body held a board meeting on 25 August, but opted not to fine Lokomotiv and Sorokin, who is also the Russian Football Union's director general, insisted that the banana banner was not "racist".

"I know that this banner applied to a certain player and to the manner of how he played in his last matches," said Sorokin.

Coloured players feel the open racism there

Nigerian international Peter Odemwingie

"Apparently fans were not happy with the fact that he plays better for Nigeria and worse for the club. That's why they have shown their satisfaction after he left. And there is nothing racial in it.

"If there would be another player - from Russia, Denmark, Norway or Japan, for example - the reaction could be the same. In Russia 'to get a banana' means 'to fail a test somewhere'.

"Welliton and Vagner Love have obtained some fans' choice awards and they are really popular among people," added Sorokin referring to the Spartak Moscow strike and CSKA Moscow forward. "So what's the problem?

"About five years ago one Russian international was booed as well and received the same banners. This is a free expression of the will but there are all kinds of measures for those who misbehave.

Peter Odemwingie
Odemwingie scored on his debut for West Brom

"The Russian football union doesn't absolutely accept any demonstrations of racism and roughly restrains them with all available methods."

However Galina Kozhevnikova, deputy director of the Russian SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis, which monitors extremism in Russia, suggested the RFU had its head in the sand over the issue of racism.

"If everybody sees racism in this banner, including the player, it's absurd to refuse," said Kozhevnikova.

"The phrase 'to get a banana' existed in the time of the Soviet Union and has almost disappeared from the slang. The RFU simply doesn't want to recognize that banner as a racism.

"According to officials, recognition of the problem will make Russia's chances to host the World Cup uncertain. That's a typical logic of officials but it's senseless to refuse the problem.

"Officials don't understand that recognition of the problem is a step to it's resolution."

Like England, who are bidding to stage the 2018 World Cup, Russia have just been visited by a Fifa inspection team.

According to Sorokin, the Russian Football Union and Fifa did not mention the subject of racism during the world governing body's visit.

"No, we didn't discuss it," said Sorokin. "I don't understand why did everybody decide that there is such a burning question for us? There is no such problem in itself."

After the BBC interviewed Sorokin, Odemwingie spoke in depth about the banana banner claiming that a minority of fans had been involved but alleged that black players are regularly subjected to insults in the Russian league and that the authorities did not act.

"Coloured players feel the open racism there and I recall a game against CSKA Moscow when their fans started the sick noises - I wouldn't have any of it and gave it back to them," said Odemwingie.

Brazilian Welliton was also targeted by a racist banner

"This was widely publicised because photographers had shots of my protest but still nothing was done to curb it.

"Sadly, it's a picture of a minority group in Russia - it really makes you feel sick but that is what it is."

Lokomotiv might not have been fined over the Odemwingie banner, but in the past other Russian clubs have been punished.

In 2007 Spartak Moscow were fined about £13,000 when some of its fans held up a banner "Monkey go home" at a game after Welliton joined the club.

And two years ago Uefa fined Zenit St Petersburg £38,000 after Marseille players were targeted by some of the Russian club's fans.

"Our disciplinary committee fined Zenit for racist conduct by their fans, the use of pyrotechnics and the display of a political banner during their match against Marseille," said a Uefa statement in 2008.

Fifa's executive committee will decide who will host the World Cup in 2018 and 2022 at a meeting in Zurich on 2 December.

Russia's rivals to host the tournaments are England, the United States, and joint bids from Belgium and the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal.

Australia, Japan, South Korea and Qatar are applying for the 2022 finals only.

After the Fifa inspection visit the world governing body told Russia it must begin building their stadiums and infrastructure immediately if they are to host the finals in 2018 or 2022.

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see also
Odemwingie attacks 'racist' fans
27 Aug 10 |  African
West Brom complete double swoop
20 Aug 10 |  West Brom

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