Fare/Sova: Discriminatory incidents in Russian football 2017 – 2018

8 Jun 2018

“In our view the Russian authorities began to show serious commitment to resolving the issue too late. Time that could have been spent on building a new model of relationships with fans and changing the culture has been missed.”

This report was compiled by the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, and the Fare network.


This is the fourth report prepared jointly by the Fare network and the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis on discrimination in Russian football. The scope of the study is racism, nationalism, homophobia and sexism during the period from June 2017 to May 2018. We have employed the same methodology as we have in previous reports – which covered the six seasons from 2012 to 2017 – to analyse cases of discrimination and far-right activity in Russian football using public sources, closed discussion groups, and online fan forums as sources for the data. All of the incidents we list are done so on the basis that there is clear evidence of their existence.  We have limited the scope of our monitoring to professional competitions – Russian clubs in the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, the Russian Championship organised by the Russian Football Premier League (RFPL) and the Russian Football National League (FNL), the FNL Cup championships as well as those of the Professional Football League (PFL), and Russian Cup matches.  There is little chance of making an accurate count of discriminatory displays in amateur competitions, these events take place in multiple locations across Russia and photographic evidence of what is happening in the stands is almost non-existent. The total number of discriminatory incidents we recorded during the 2017/ 2018 football season continued to decline. However, the picture is more complicated, these figures represent only the tip of the iceberg of the actual numbers of incidents.


Especially notable was a decline in the number of far-right banners displayed. And although we estimate that the actual number of banners was potentially higher than we were able to record, the statistical change can be attributed to several factors. Credit must be given to the security operations at many clubs for being effective in stopping them from being brought into stadiums. This applies in particular to banners featuring “Teivaz”, “Odal”, “Zig”, “Algiz” and “Yr” runes, these were all symbols used in Nazi Germany and are unambiguously associated with far-right ideology. We did notice that some banners were allowed into stadiums with runes partly covered with duct tape. It also appears that the media services of some clubs, especially at smaller outfits, have avoided focusing on supporter banners in their photographic reports. This suggests that in stadiums in which fans persist in raising them the clubs are increasingly refusing to give publicity to the banners. There are however examples of continuing disregard by some clubs. FC Chertanovo Moscow was fined for displaying a banner featuring runes and fans of the club were repeatedly witnessed displaying neo-Nazi symbols in the stands. Notably this season we have not recorded a single banner bearing the Celtic Cross a very popular neo-Nazi symbol. However, it is still popular among fans – and is still, for example, widely seen in graffiti.


Following a relatively low number of discriminatory chants in the previous season, during 2017/18 the numbers of such chants have increased considerably. These include monkey chants, neo-Nazi songs and anti-Caucasian chants as well as the use of homophobic slurs. We report 19 cases this season compared to 2 last season and 10 the season before. A particularly big case involved Spartak Moscow in which thousands of their fans were involved in a racist chant against the Brazilian-born Russia national team goalkeeper, Guilherme.

The rise of homophobia inside stadiums is new, we now see fans labelling opponents as ‘gay’ as a means of abuse more often than ever before. This is a practice that takes sustenance from state-led homophobia, but has been copied from leagues in western Europe. These levels of discriminatory chanting indicate that xenophobic views remain deeply rooted among many Russian football fans. We note that despite the attention of the media and efforts of the Russian Football Union, fans continue to direct monkey chants at black players regularly. The Russian Football Union (RFU) anti-discrimination officer Alexei Smertin launched an observer system at domestic competitions this season, which has had a positive impact on recording and action taken by the RFU. Thanks to the RFU observers a significant number of chants on the terraces have been documented, and clubs have faced more disciplinary action than ever before. In general the issues are far higher up on the agenda for action.


However, following a trend from the previous season the RFU Disciplinary Committee has continued to punish players and coaches who react to being abused by racist chants with two-match bans, while ignoring the perpetrators, or applying inadequate fines. This practice amounts to a form of victim blaming and reflects an ignorance of the dynamics of racism. It is the wrong signal to send if one is serious about tackling the issue and leads to the victims of abuse feeling unprotected and isolated during matches.


Physical hate crimes committed by Russian far-right fans remain a problem. During the 2017/ 2018 season we noted an attack on a group of students from Iraq by fans in Orel and a fight between fans in Kirov and a mobilisation of anti-racists. A year earlier we also noted two similar acts of violence. It is clear to us that the levels of far-right violence and hate- motivated attacks will be higher than those reported.


We also saw this year that racist and xenophobic views are not only confined to fans. During the 2017/ 2018 season there were several cases of racist comments by players, club management teams and the media.


Despite some efforts by the Russian government and football authorities to prevent discriminatory incidents involving fans in recent years, the in-stadium observer system, and more consistent penalties for clubs, the problem of racism and discrimination in Russian football is far from resolved. In our view the Russian authorities began to show serious commitment to resolving the issue too late. Time that could have been spent on building a new model of relationships with fans and changing the culture has been missed.


There are reasons to hope that during the 2018 FIFA World Cup the authorities will not allow serious violent incidents involving football hooligans to take place by using all the resources of law enforcement agencies and special services. However, we do not have as much confidence in the prevention of non-violent racist incidents, despite the many well intentioned reassurances.

The atmosphere of the World Cup and the make-up and variety of fans in the stadiums will differ significantly from the environment in the domestic league. But if representatives of active fan groups are present in the stands and nearby to stadiums, the risk of racist and homophobic incidents will increase. We hope the preventive measures being taken by law enforcement agencies and the spirit that brings people together will keep those fans with provocative intentions off the World Cup and it will be held in the spirit of equality and understanding.


The total number of incidents continued to decline, in particular the number of far-right banners.          No single banner featuring a Celtic Cross (the most popular far-right symbol) recorded this season       A sharp increase in the number of discriminatory chants, including monkey chants, indicates deeply rooted issues and a lack of educational and preventative efforts by clubs       The number of homophobic displays is on the rise, the result of widespread institutionalised homophobia in society, legitimised through legislation       The Russian Football Union are to be commended for the implementation of the monitoring system by Alexey Smertin. He and his whose should be given credit for the number and nature of incidents they exposed and sanctioned through disciplinary measures     Dangerous trend of sanctioning victims of racism with a two-match ban continues, players who become victims of racism remain unprotected.

This is an abbreviated version of the report: The full version can be accessed here:


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