Fair play, chivalry, respect for the opponent: these are qualities which should be inherent to sport. Unfortunately, however, the problems of the modern world – racism, xenophobia, hatred – are reflected in sport. In this there is a well-known paradox: instead of revealing people’s best qualities, sport demonstrates to us the darkest sides of human nature.
There are many examples of the manifestation of racism in football, the most popular and democratic sports game. On 6th June 2007, during the First Division match of the Russian Premier League, banners and placards were noticed on the stands: ‘Kondopoga, Stavropol. Who next?’ and ‘Stavropol. Russians don’t surrender.’ There were also banners with the acronyms ‘14-88’ (‘88’ is an acronym for the Nazi salute ‘Heil Hitler’, and ‘14’ is an acronym for the saying, popular with skinheads, ‘14 Words of David Lane’). These slogans were noticed during the Torpedo vs Zvezda match in Moscow, the Shinnik vs Alania match in Yaroslavl, and the Spartak vs MZhK and Metallurg vs Kuzbass matches.
On 11th August 2007, during the Krylya Sovetov vs Spartak match in Samara, on the stand of the Spartak supporters appeared the racist banner ‘Number 11 is for Tikhonov alone. Monkey, go home!’ Shortly afterwards, wearing the Spartak number 11 shirt, the dark-skinned Brazilian forward, Vellington, came onto the field.
On 11th November 2007, during the Krylya Sovetov (Samara) vs Khimki match in Podmoskovye, the dark-skinned defender on the Samara team, Serzha Branko, left the field, outraged at the behaviour of fans who had insulted him with racist shouts. ‘From the beginning of the second half of the match, every contact I had with the ball was accompanied by racist abuse and ‘monkey’ shouts from the direction of the Khimki supporters. I brought this to the referee’s attention. I asked him to take action, because the atmosphere in the stadium evidently had nothing in common with the principles of fair play. However, the referee said that he did not understand me. Yet it was not some small group which was involved in this, but a whole stand! That was when I decided to leave the field,’ Branko explains.
Some of these events received great public attention, others little, but in every such case the authorities pretend that there is some kind of chance or misunderstanding, and refuse to acknowledge that racism is a serious problem in Russia, and not only in the world of football does it need to be addressed.
It is particularly offensive when racist incidents happen in our town. In his interview, Serzha Branko justly criticised Zenit St Petersburg: ‘It may be that the government of your country needs to take some kind of resolution, so that at least something would start to be done. There are many good people in Russia, but there are also many bad people. For example, why do we hear abuse of Black players in the St Petersburg stadium year after year? ‘Zenit are the champions, Zenit are the champions,’ we hear from all sides. Yet in a civilised country, such a team would be relegated to the fourth division for such actions on the part of its supporters. Of course, the management cannot be held responsible for every one of the supporters, but the management take no action at all. If no kind of action is taken against racists, the management of Zenit club will prove to be the greatest racists.’
Unfortunately, the problem of racism is relevant not only in professional sport, but also in amateur sport. An example of this is shown by the children’s football team from Oselki, a village in the Vsevolozhsky region of the Leningrad district. In this team Russian and Romani children play on good terms with each other (there is a small Romani settlement in the Leskolovsky district). The team has already been participating in various regional competitions for several years, have a good reputation, and every year improve their results. The players get on well with one another, are well trained, and have a sense of partnership. In the game the team looks excellent, however the boys from Oselki quite often lose to a weaker opponent. What is going on here?
It is without doubt that both players and their coaches can sense the supporters’ negative attitude due to the internationality of the team, which consists of four Romani and three Russian children. For example, at a regional football competition in September 2007, supporters openly shouted racist slogans and had even composed a chant containing very unpleasant words addressed at the Romani players. Of course, they were stopped by the coaches and referees, but it was already too late: having started the game in a very positive state of mind and led the score in the first half of the match, after these malicious shouts the children from the Oselki team became visibly discouraged, their spirits fell, and the game did not take off. Out of despair they even started to shout at each other. This is the result not of a genuine sports competition, but of severe psychological pressure which was brought to bear on the players.
In the light of such incidents it is especially clear that careful work for the cultivation in children of respect for one another and respect for foreign cultures is essential. Over the course of several years, within Memorial’s school integration programs, football matches have been organised in schools where a large number of the pupils are children from families of migrants and ethnic minorities. Some of the games are held with the support of the international network of the organisation ‘Football Against Racism in Europe’ (FARE), which annually holds a pan-European action ‘Week against Racism and Discrimination in Football’. The heart of the campaign is the organisation of various football-related actions in various European countries, directed against racism and discrimination.
On 20th October 2007, children of various nationalities from the villages of Nizhny Oselki, Vyritsa (Leningrad region), and Syabrenitsa (Novgorod region) took part in an integration football match organised by Memorial with the support of FARE. The schools of the town of Pushkin hosted the match and assisted the organisers: School no. 410 donated its playing field for the game and School no. 462 helped a great deal with the refereeing. All the participants were divided into four mixed groups – each team consisted of pupils from various schools and representatives of various nationalities.
The match was very cheerful and lively. Both the players and supporters celebrated when their team scored a goal, and those who were at first disappointed by defeat quickly forgot about it, since in the winning team there were representatives of each of the schools taking part. Therefore, at the end of the match, everyone had the feeling that they had won. And it was true: on that day we had gained a victory over prejudice, hatred and racism.