Racism and right-wing violence are threatening Russia’s reputation in international sports as the country prepares to host the Winter Olympics in February and the World Cup soccer finals in 2018.
The latest incident was a riot at a soccer match last week in Yaroslavl, between the local Shinnik (Tiremakers) team and Spartak, a squad from Moscow.
The Spartak fans launched fireworks at the police and brandished a Nazi flag with a swastika.
The week before in the Russian capital, fans of CSKA Moscow threw bananas and yelled racist monkey chants at black players from the British team Manchester City.
The incident prompted Manchester City star Yaya Toure, who comes from the Ivory Coast, to call on all black players to boycott the 2018 World Cup if Russian attitudes don’t change. Yaroslavl, CSKA Moscow and Spartak Moscow are all teams whose home grounds will be among the 14 venues of the Russia 2018 World Cup.
The fans of FC Zenit, based in St. Petersburg, may be the most notorious for racist and homophobic attitudes. Last year, the biggest Zenit fan club, Landscrona, issued a manifestodemanding that the club field an all-white, heterosexual team.
It claimed “dark-skinned players are all but forced down Zenit’s throat now, which only brings out a negative reaction,” and said gay players were “unworthy of our great city.”
The club quickly distanced itself from that manifesto.
A new national law that limits the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people has raised questions about how LGBT athletes and spectators will be treated at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Russian President Vladimir Putin says that people of different sexual orientations will be welcome at the games, and that they will be protected.