FIFA vice president Jeffrey Webb said a World Cup cannot be held in Russia with the current level of racism that exists in the country.
Webb, who also serves as chairman of FIFA’s Anti-Racism and Discrimination Task Force, spoke to ESPN FC in Philadelphia on Thursday and said, “Definitely, Russia poses a huge challenge for FIFA and the World Cup from a racism standpoint.”
It has been more than four years since FIFA awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia despite a history of racist chants and actions by fans toward players. Since then the country has seen a number of racism-related controversies in football as well.
In 2012, a banana was thrown at Anzhi Makhachkala defender Christopher Samba during a match at Lokomotiv Moscow. A year later, Manchester City’s Yaya Toure complained of racist chants from CSKA Moscow fans during a Champions League tie.
In October, Zenit St. Petersburg striker Hulk complained of monkey chants from traveling Spartak Moscow fans. Hulk later complained that a referee racially abused him during another game, though the Russian football union later cleared the official.
This month a report entitled “Time for Action” found more than 200 cases of discriminatory behaviour linked with the Russian game between May 2012 and May 2014, something FIFA president Sepp Blatter admitted had him “concerned.”
Webb said it is FIFA’s responsibility to ensure that educational programs influence change over racist attitudes in Russia before the World Cup begins.
“There’s a lot of work there to be done from a educational aspect,” Webb said. “The minister of sport, [Vitaly Mutko,] who is also on the FIFA executive committee, has acknowledged that. And I believe now they’re going to put some plans in place to start to tackle diversity education programs.
“From our task force standpoint, we now have a dedicated staff who works with us on racism, and they’re working very closely with Russia to implement and execute education programs.
“It’s a huge opportunity to influence some change and we better influence some change over the next three years. We have to. We can’t have a World Cup there under the current conditions.”
Webb, a native of the Cayman Islands, also serves as the president of CONCACAF, overseeing football in North and Central America and the Carribbean. He said he believes his region of the world can be a leading force in removing racism from football.
“We’re in a great area of the world from a sporting standpoint,” he said. “Racism rears its ugly head every now and then, but not as frequently as we’ve seen in other territories.
“I do believe that we can have a huge impact. I believe that the history that we’ve been through in this region can help educate other parts of the world. There’s been a lot of lessons learned.
“When you look around and you take some of the programs that you see in the United States and the way athletes here associate with their communities and go into those communities, I think we have to make people understand that, at the end of the day, there is only one human race and that diversity is good.”