Russian racism, relegation and reality

It just had to happen. I’m home and spouting on about how great the end of the Russian season is compared to the dodgy English one, and a collection of gombeens ruin it.

CSKA Moscow’s Nigerian striker Aaron Olanare went down injured after clashing with Zenit’s Axel Witsel in the 10th minute and the whole Cup Final was screwed as a spectacle. Russian racism intruded yet again.

Singing a refrain from an old Russian pop song from the group “Banned Drummers”, they shamed the Russian game and nation with “Killed the Nigger”.

Oddly it was unremarked by the painfully poor TV commentators, even though it was audible in the stadium and at home. References were pulled from many mainstream media with the high end guests on parade not exactly needing this crass idiotism on display (some sports media actually pulled reports of the incident).

That Zenit went on to win thoroughly soiled what should have been a great day out in the beautiful Kazan Arena.

 

Outside of Russia, obviously, the latest incident of Russian racism was absent with the dubious Leicester City triumph.

The scheduling of the Cup Final immediately after a full weekend of Premier League matches and on the same day as across the country the FNL (1st Division) is fully on display, (plus it’s a holiday weekend) and the RFS win zero points for promoting the game in Russia.

The FNL had drama at both ends of the table with a rubber stamp on the dearth of talent and strategy in the Russian professional game obvious.

If they cannot get simple things right, like providing clear strategy for their clubs, how can the RFS tackle Russian racism without government orders.

Gazovik Orenburg are free to concentrate on winning the title having sealed one of the two automatic promotion spots.

They are not solvent, like every other single Russian professional sports outfit, though they have in Robert Evdokimov one of the best Russian coaches and a very solid, committed and hands off board of directors. I profiled them recently here.

Crisis club Arsenal Tula have at least a play-off spot and are eight points clear of meldonium buyers Tom Tomsk in third.

The fact that the RFS have followed closely the model of the English FA by giving free rein to the wealthy elite at the expense of the National Team and football in general is clear when Spartak Moscow’s reserves are sitting in fourth.

They cannot be promoted, though having seen them twice this season, I am still at a loss as to to how they are at such lofty heights. Paying their players and staff regularly might be an explanation though.

Fakel Voronezh and FC Tyumen are chasing Volgar Astrakhan for the final play-off spot, though since Fakel are fast following their fellow Voronezh pro sports club, Buran (ice hockey), into financial turmoil doesn’t bode well for them.

Nor does an amateur rugby match getting more fans through the turnstiles the day before FC Tyumen did when winning a vital showdown with Yenesei.

Fakel condemned former player Valeri Karpin’s Torpedo Armavir to a swift return to the 2nd Division. One of the nicest people in football has been on a downward slide since being duped into a dugout return in 2012 with Spartak Moscow.

Since being sacrificed on the altar of vanity by the self-titled “People’s Club” he suffered at a financially troubled Mallorca before becoming the face of the doomed Torpedo Armavir experiment.

Valeri needs a new pasture and his Estonian passport gives him freedom to travel.

He’s wealthy enough to work with a worthy cause and connected to the continental system so that any club who brings him in will benefit.

His experience, ability and manner would be better suited to bringing the best out of a club where immediate success or survival is not essential, however deluded.

 

Baikal Irkutsk are relegated as expected and the Eastern cull could be almost total with SKA-Energiya Khabarovsk looking likely to go down, ending their FNL torture having been marooned there since 2002.

Former Premier League Luch Energiya Vladivostok are in dire need of wins yet for both there is hope.

Only sixth placed Fakel are mathematically assured of survival, being 13 points clear of 16th place Khabarovsk. Bankrupt Shinnik Yaroslavl are in 15th on goal difference, above them Zenit St. Petersburg reserves are a point clear and level with crowd pullers Yenesei.

Baltika Kaliningrad and Volga Nizhny Novgorod are both financially bucked but relatively clear of relegation, though anything can happen on and off the pitch. Expect some unusual results and scorelines, as points and bought and sold in the end of season bonanza!

Reality has been intruding on the Russian game even further this season at all levels, despite the Premier League being as exciting as I’d remembered (in spite of the Rostov question marks).

Crowds continue falling, with second tier side (KAMAZ) averaging a suspiciously rounded up 250.

Appalling as this is, KAMAZ give free tickets to their auto plant employees and non-employees pay only 100rbs (less than 1.50 euros), so there is no gate money.

This exists at all levels of Russian professional football and there is no interest in changing it.

In spite of their success Lokomotiv Moscow continue to see crowds dwindle and rivals Spartak Moscow, even with a fine stadium and facilities, are struggling to get bodies in the gates.

It is not the standard of football or lack of stars, nor is it ticket costs, something else it eating away at Russian’s second sport.

One minor fact could help at least get clubs on a path to a sort of independence from the vagaries of relying on shifting fanbases and disruptive fans who scare away potential new recruits to the cause.

Neighbours of mine, who are from India, claim they don’t want to go to football because of russian racism, yet they’ve gone three times this year to England for Premier League and Championship games, where racism is hardly unheard of.

Their point of view is valid, though connection with non-Russians is non existent and the vast majority of clubs don’t bother reaching out to ex-pat communities, again not a Russian preserve.

Russian racism, as explained here and here, is born from deeper societal ills, though solving it can be done far more effectively through pro-active club-community engagement than platitudes from governing bodies and government excuses.

While Russian racism reared up again this weekend in a devalued showpiece, it will be absent next year and in 2018, yet fester as it’s too deep and varied to even begin addressing.

Though with the finances of football clubs continuing to collapse, russian racism will be the last issue addressed, if ever.

Author Details

Alan Moore

A Russia-based Sports Journalist and Consultant, worked with major sports clubs including:- Spartak Moscow, Hajduk Split, Eintracht Frankfurt. Boxed Internationally, played semi-pro football and worked full-time in sports management/consultancy from 2003-13. First published professionally on football in 1990, first Russian league match in 1991, Host of Capital Sports on Capital FM, Moscow, #ChampTalks2020 and write the odd article. Director of the Centre of International Relations at the Russian State Social University in Moscow. And to make things more fun, he produced and hosted #ChampTalks2018 for UNESCO, Moscow's Tolerance Centre and Capital FM.

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