By Saul Pope and Manuel Veth –
Saul Pope – Evaluating Commentary on the Frimpong Incident
The Russian Premier League didn’t even make it through the opening day of the new season without a racist incident. The season-opener between Spartak and Ufa in Moscow saw former Arsenal midfielder Emmaunel Frimpong abused by a section of the Spartak crowd in the 31st minute; Frimpong was then sent off with a red-card for showing the middle finger to the crowd in response.
He quickly apologised for his reaction but expressed anger at the abuse. One team-mate jokingly told the media that Frimpong’s middle finger should be cut off, a comment that was widely distributed in both Western and Russian media which seemingly reflects a Russian attitude that the gravity of the incident was not being taken seriously enough. But how do ordinary Russian fans feel about the incident? Below are comments left under a championat.com report about the Frimpong’s red card. I have translated them and removed names.
A deserved red – racist idiocy needs to be answered with goals and not gesticulations.
Spartak will now be without fans or without points.
Red and White racists…I hope Spartak has to host all home matches with no fans.
Racism is unacceptable on the eve of the 2018 World Cup.
“The meat” [derogatory term for Spartak fans] just like always…
The stadium needs to be banned from holding matches until at least the half-way point in the season. It’s time to combat the racists properly – it’s a real embarrassment to have a racist scandal with the season barely underway.
Now close the Otkrytie Arena because of racism!
They’ll take away the World Cup from a racist country and deservedly so. We need to reeducate xenophobes and racists – and shoot them on the spot.
Will they ban the stadium from holding matches? If it wasn’t Moscow and somewhere in the provinces the media would raise the issue and that stadium would be banned.
The Premier League needs to install cameras in the Spartak fan sector and close this racist stadium and its fans! We don’t want them to take the 2018 World Cup away. Scumbags!
I hope the match delegate noted the racist idiocy. There was that ridiculous situation with [Rostov midfielder] Kanga – everyone heard the monkey chants on TV but the match delegate didn’t.
As well as the player’s red card, Spartak should receive a technical defeat – and that should happen no matter who’s playing. The fans deliberately provoke the player and the only one to suffer is the one who’s been offended. Only this way will we root out that disgusting thing in our stadiums. We say there’s no racism but the World Cup is close – just the time for some interested hack abroad to raise the issue. We’re giving them the opportunity to do this ourselves.
I know the Spartak fans – they are great lads. I think they’ll punish these morons themselves – ordinary fans shouldn’t suffer because of them.
A deserved red for such a gesture. But by the same rules Spartak should get a 3-5 match stadium ban. Considering Frimpong is a well-known player this might get FIFA’s attention, where they’re just looking for an opportunity to take the World Cup away from us. Thanks Spartak fans!
Frimpong behaved rudely.
-3 points for Spartak and a two-match stadium ban. We’ve got to fight racists.
Frimpong shouldn’t be punished – the inadequately-behaved fans should be. Let them not be allowed into the stadium for a couple of matches.
A similar range of comments can be found under the Sport-Express and Soviet Sport reports on the incident.
What does it tell us? There is clearly a great deal of concern about the possibility that Russia’s World Cup would be relocated by FIFA, which is the main reason that some fans want racism to be dealt with.
Having followed this issue in Russia for close to twenty years, the responses follow a trend that has become apparent in the last decade or so – increased genuine and public upset about racist incidents, and a greater awareness of how the West views these incidents This is the most anti-racist response to a racist incident that I remember from Russian fans. Most importantly this highlights that attitudes towards racism are changing amongst ordinary fans in Russia.
Manuel Veth – Comments by the Editor on Racism and Xenophobia in Russia
On 22 May 2015 I helped to organize a panel in Russia to discuss the problem of racism and xenophobia at an event hosted by the FARE Network at the Sakharov Centre in Moscow. A re-occurring point that was brought up by both the panel members and journalist who attended the talk was that racism is not Russia’s biggest issue. Furthermore, I was reminded that football in Western Europe also has its fair share of racist incidents at football games. Incident reports, which are regularly published on the farenet.org, highlight that racism, and radicalism is a general problem in Europe.
For this it is important to put the proportion of racism incidents in Russia into perspective. In the spring of 2015 FARE Network published the ‘Time for Action, incidents of discrimination in Russian football‘ report, which was produced by SOVA, a Russian-based think tank. The report presents a systematic assessment of the problem of racism and discrimination in Russian football.
According to this report 19 people were murdered and 109 seriously injured after racial hate crimes in Russia. Moscow and St. Petersburg account for half of these cases. The main victims of far-right violence were natives of Central Asia (10 dead, 17 wounded), the Caucasus (3 and 13), and unidentified people of ‘non-Slavic appearance’ (3 and 17). Also among the victims of physical attacks that lead to serious injuries were individuals who are black (10 wounded), representatives of religious groups (15), members of youth and informal groups (12), the LGBT community (7), Roma (3), and Jewish (1).
These numbers are also reflected in Russian football, where 99 cases of discrimination were identified in the first half of the 2014/15 season alone (77 cases targeted people from the Caucasus, and 22 targeted black players on the field).
The FARE/SOVA report also highlights that: “The media representation and public opinion on racism and discrimination in Russian football, although generally condemning such behaviour, often features victim blaming and suggestions that the problem is exaggerated by the international media as a way of damaging the image of Russian football and the state.”
This viewpoint was heavily represented at the FARE event in Moscow, where for example one Russian journalist repeatedly pointed out that while racism in Russia is a problem it was not worth making such a huge issue out of it as the country is facing more important problems.
This was a viewpoint repeated to me by many fans, and officials involved in the game. At the same time the Russian Premier League has begun to punish teams involved in incidents more seriously. This has also led to fans, and the media discussing some of the issues more openly.
A CSKA fan involved with the CSKA against racism initiative told me for example that there hasn’t been an incident at CSKA since the club was punished by the league, and UEFA. Now, however, on the first day of the Russian Premier League, Russian football was once again rocked by another racism incident, and as Saul Pope’s collected comments highlight, Russian fans are beginning to understand the greater repercussion this behaviour has for Russian clubs, the impact on their fans, and also the effect the display of racism has on the image of the country internationally. It will be important that Russian policy makers will not just pay lip service by supposedly tackling issues of racism, and xenophobia just before the start of the tournament, but that their will actually build a lasting legacy of change.
Saul Pope has been following Russian football for twenty years. Since 2004 he has been a regular contributor to When Saturday Comes magazine, mainly on the economic, political and social aspects of Russian football. He is a fluent Russian speaker who lived and worked in St. Petersburg for several years. A Zenit St. Petersburg fan who first saw them live in 1998, his all-time favourite Zenit players are Aleksandr Panov and Aleksandr Spivak. He once saw Andrey Arshavin in a supermarket, but was too embarrassed to go and ask for an autograph. Follow Saul on Twitter @SaulPope.
Manuel Veth is a PhD candidate at the University of London King’s College, London. Originally from Munich, his thesis is entitled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.