Domm Norris reports on a worrying story which has recently come to light in Russia.
Racism, sadly, seems to be all the rage. You can barely move from one website to the next without seeing mention of the dastardly John Terry or Luis Suarez’s persistently irritating mug shot. The issue of racial slander on the field of play is a topic that finally seems to be reaching a point of action – in English football anyhow. However the issue has recently made headlines elsewhere, even in the racially fragile Russia.
Laryea Kingston – of Terek Grozny and Hearts fame – has made somewhat startling revelations regarding a player who remains the poster boy of Russian football despite his questionable form – Andrei Arshavin.
To use a much used footballing cliché - Arshavin is the David Beckham of the Russian game. Numerous television adverts and billboards bear his name and face and the captain’s armband he dons when leading out the Russian national side only further exhibits the stature of the player. Arshavin is seemingly an untouchable tour de force who remains an institution in his homeland – a personality that people crave to know about and understand.
It is therefore a little damaging to hear of Kingston’s recent claims that Arshavin racially abused him during a game in 2006 – while the Ghanian international featured for Lokomotiv Moscow while Arshavin played for his beloved Zenit St Petersburg. ‘He called me a monkey’ were the words Kingston used in describing the incident to Indonesia’s Metro TV while answering an interview question regarding the challenges he faced while playing in Europe.
How the English tabloids would feed on such allegations had this incident occurred on their home turf. The pressure that has built upon Luis Suarez, and particularly, John Terry over recent weeks serves to express the antipathy towards racism in any form. The scandals have seen police involvement, investigations and potentially charges - should the evidence hold firm in the face of dogged opposition. However the issue is to be dealt with somewhat differently in Russia.
It is perhaps the fact that the incident occurred some 5 years ago that there has been little coverage of Kingston’s words – or perhaps Arshavin’s position is simply untouchable – however the comments were worthy of merely passing comment on the likes of Championat and Sport Express – Russia’s primary football news sites. The lack of immediacy of Kingston’s allegations makes it difficult to investigate the incident however it does go some way to establish the issue of on field racism in the Russian game.
Racism is widely known to exist within Russian football – simply ask Roberto Carlos how he feels about the issue after suffering the indignity of having bananas thrown at him on two separate occasions. It is prevalent in the stands and has been for some time. Speaking to the BBC former Lokomotiv Moscow and Kuban Krasnodar forward Haminu Draman claimed that ‘with my experience I would not advise anyone from Ghana to come over here. You could make money... but for you to enjoy good football in your career I don’t think it’s a good place.’
His comments seemingly relate only to racism from fans however the issue of on field racism could be a subject that remains somewhat subversive due to the focus primarily lying upon the actions of the stands. Arshavin’s alleged comments align closely with problems Zenit St Petersburg have with racial tolerance which sees the club flat out refuse to purchase black players. The club’s ultras are notoriously vocal in their disregard for racial broad mindedness - in a manner that makes one lose faith in the goodness of humanity.
This issue makes it increasingly difficult for Russia’s footballing authorities to preach tolerance when a barrage of abuse can stem from the stands and infiltrate the already heated actions on the pitch. Zenit’s relatively open racist stance – as has been discussed by former coach Dick Advocaat – cannot help break down barriers that exist within the Russian game as a whole. Perhaps it’s a twisted term of endearment for the club’s hardcore fans to hear of Arshavin’s supposed racial slander – maybe this will see him brought back to Russia with even greater thrust than before.
Kingston’s words show the fear that black footballers have within Russian football at present. Roberto Carlos rightfully walked off the pitch after the second time a banana was thrown in his direction – the first, incidentally, occurred against Zenit – however his level of authority within the game makes him an exceptional circumstance. Should a player of slight reputation walk off the field of play then how will a club and its fan react? You would think a little differently. The fact Kingston has waited some 5 years to divulge this piece of information is a wastefully long period of time which perhaps would never have come to light without the storm surrounding Terry and Suarez.
It is simply too late to contemplate investigating the incident however it does serve as a tipping point for other players in a similar situation. Should racist language be used on the field of play then players must report such instances swiftly. This will ultimately force the hand of the Russian Football Union and the Premier League into publicly expressing their stance on racism within the game – which all too often lacks substance at best.
Kingston may not be the flagship of an anti racism movement although his words perhaps offer a hint into yet another dark side of Russian football. However the precedent set by the potential punishments for the likes of John Terry and Luis Suarez may become an important outline for other nation’s beset by similar problems. However as American civil rights activist Florynce Kennedy stated ‘there aren't too many people ready to die for racism. They'll kill for racism but they won't die for racism’ and over the coming years we are going to see just how intrinsic racism is within Russian football.
Domm is a regular contributor to IBWM and can be found on Twitter @footballglobe.