The group Fare Network (Football Against Racism in Europe) is an organization that tracks racism and homophobia in the soccer world. For the 2018 World Cup in Russia, they set up a series of “diversity houses” for the LGBTQ community and people of color. Now in St. Petersburg, they have been evicted from the building they were leasing for these safe spaces with other tenants also reportedly under instruction not to offer subleases, leaving only the brutal symbolism of a diversity house shuttered. Accusing local authorities, Fare’s director Piara Powar told the AP, “It seems to be clear that the project in St. Petersburg has been subject to a political attack of the kind that shows how debates about human rights are curtailed by powerful conservative political forces in Russia.”
The need for Fare and similar organizations is pressing for the 2018 World Cup. Racist incidents in Russian soccer by players, fans, and hooligan clubs in recent years have been routinized, and discrimination is a regular reality for black players. During a UEFA Youth League match against the Russian top-tier club Spartak Moscow last December, Liverpool’s Rhian Brewster was abused by a Russian opponent with a combination of racial and homophobic epithets. The incident, a touchstone illustration of soccer’s contemporary racism, came after a match in September in Moscow where another young black Liverpool player was subjected to racist monkey chants by Spartak’s fans. A few months after the December game, Paul Pogba and other black players on the French national team would be subjected to similar monkey chants during a friendly against Russia in St. Petersburg. Black soccer players in the country have complained of racism in “almost every game,” and Fare co-authored a report which found 80 racist and far-right incidents in Russian soccer in the 2017–18 season.
For years, anti-black racism has blighted the soccer culture in Russia. It’s increasingly obvious is that FIFA, the international body that ostensibly regulates the game, is not taking these claims seriously as they should.
A catalogue of recent responses from FIFA and the associations under its auspices suggests a great deal of window dressing with little in the display case. Brewster’s complaint following the match was dismissed for a lack of evidence. For an assortment of racist incidents, Spartak and Zenit St. Petersburg, another of Russia’s top teams whose supporters had previously released a manifesto calling for an all-white, all-heterosexual team, were fined a pocket-change $1,600 and a partial stadium closure for one game. Racist chants against the French team saw the national Russian Football Union fined $22,000, just slightly above the amount England was fined when one of their age-group players used an energy drink that wasn’t an official sponsor.