Challenge any racist abuse during World Cup, campaigner urges Fifa and fans

Racist chanting and abuse in stadiums must not go unchallenged during the World Cup, a leading anti-discrimination campaigner has said.

Troy Townsend, education manager for Kick It Out, implored fans and players to report any discrimination to authorities, including the British Embassy or Football Supporters Federation when in Russia.

The tournament, often billed as the pinnacle of the sport, will take place against a background of recent controversies, including in the Russian domestic game.

The anti-discrimination Fare Network and Moscow-based think tank the Sova Centre said there had been a sharp rise in incidents of racist and discriminatory chanting in the 2017/18 season - 19 in total compared with two in 2016/17.

Monkey chants were "regularly" directed at black players and of the 80 incidents of far-right or discriminatory behaviour recorded at football matches, 12 involved anti-black racism and one was anti-Semitic, their report said.

And Manchester United star Paul Pogba was among those abused from the stands during France's friendly against Russia in March.

The Russian Football Union was fined 30,000 Swiss francs (£22,850) by world governing body Fifa, who said only "limited numbers" of fans were involved.

Mr Townsend said the fine, the minimum penalty for a breach of Fifa's discrimination code by fans, was "paltry" and failed to send the right message.

He said: "So there's an acknowledgement that singing, chanting has taken place, there's an acknowledgement that it's been towards black players on opposition teams but yet the punishment that's coming down from the governing bodies, really and truthfully, just amounts to a slap on the wrist and that's been continuing for quite a long while now."

He questioned why the supporters responsible had not been identified and banned, meaning they could go on to repeat abuse.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Fifa has said it has a "zero tolerance approach to discrimination" and a "three-step" procedure will be in operation to allow referees to intervene to stop abuse.

But Mr Townsend said the governing body's response had given him cause for concern, while the organisation's chairman Lord Ouseley went further after the fine, saying: "Kick It Out has little confidence that Fifa can effectively deal with potential incidents of racism during this summer's World Cup."

Mr Townsend, whose son Andros has been capped for England, said Fifa bosses needed to "step up their game".

"I would hope the World Cup runs trouble free, and trouble free is not just racial discrimination - discrimination in all its formats and obviously violence - but I don't think anyone can sit in a seat and talk about the World Cup without maybe worrying that issues may happen out there", he said.

"I think what we've got to do is empower people, players, fans - because the fans will hear a chant - to speak out or to speak to the relevant people. So English fans can go to the embassy, go to FSF, say that situations have happened.

"I don't think we can let anything go unchallenged.

"So we would want to know what is happening out there so that we keep it in the public eye and when the tournament finishes identify it to the relevant bodies.

"I can understand that everyone will want the World Cup to pass off with no incident. All you want to do is to get to the final day, see the winners and glorify what a good competition it's been.

"But if we don't challenge the fact there may be underlying issues then we're not doing the game justice either."

Mr Townsend said players who have spoken out about abuse they received, including Liverpool and England Under-17 star Rhian Brewster, have been left frustrated with the process.

First Uefa dropped Brewster's claim against Spartak Moscow's Leonid Mironov over "insufficient evidence" and then Fifa dismissed a complaint he made about racist abuse by a Spain player against a fellow England teammate during last year's Under-17 World Cup final.

"They don't realise the impact that it has on the individual, and the individual's family and what they have to go through in terms of proving you've been racially abused.

"I often wonder why someone would make that up. Because the stress around that is too much to handle."

Mr Townsend urged fans travelling to heed the safety advice of the Football Supporters' Federation, which has produced a guide to the tournament.