Welcome to 2017, where someone denies racism exists and then gets appointed to investigate racism in a sport he loves. That’s exactly what’s happening in Russia.
With Russia set to host the 2017 Confederations Cup and 2018 World Cup, the Russian Football Union has appointed former Chelsea and Russian soccer star Alexei Smertin to the role of anti-racism and discrimination inspector, according to the AP.
This comes just two years after Smertin denied that racism didn’t even exist in Russia to begin with.
“There’s no racism in Russia, definitely, because you know it does not exist,” he told the BBC in 2015. “It’s just like a fashion. It comes from abroad, from different countries.”
As for his new job, Smertin says he will work to “keep racism and discrimination” out of soccer in Russia.
“Ahead of the 2017 Confederations Cup and 2018 World Cup, Russia, as a country hosting such big international tournaments, should be an example of global tolerance both on and off the football field,” Smertin said Tuesday in a statement on the RFU website. “And we will definitely show that.”
Ah yes Russia exhibiting a fine example of global tolerance on and off the football field. Just how we think of them in today’s political climate.
All of these quotes and statements from Smertin seem like they’re coming from a completely different human after his 2015 comments to the BBC.
Along with his above quote about racism being just like fashion, the former Chelsea defender said Russian fans taunted black players with bananas “for fun” and their racist chants were to distract opposing black players. Both of those instances were not “personal abuse” or racist, according to Smertin.
Those remarks came at a time when the campaign group FARE recorded 92 instances where Russian fans chanted racist or discriminatory statements at opposing players in and around stadiums during the 2014-2015 season. In the previous two seasons, FARE had reported a total of 83.
It will be interesting to see what Smertin does, if he does anything at all, during the 2018 World Cup. But before the World Cup, he’ll have to deal with the 2017 Confederations Cup.
In the 2017 tournament, only eight teams are slated to participate: Russia, Germany, Australia, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal, and Cameroon. That will be a much smaller stage for fans to discriminate opposing players.
A year later, there will be 32 countries represented for the biggest sports tournament in the world. If Smertin has a hard time keeping racist remarks out of the 2017 tournament, the 2018 World Cup will make his job even harder.