|Manchester City's Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure express their complaints to the ref.|
It only took one comment from Manchester City's Yaya Toure after the game against CSKA Moscow to stir up the "racism in football" pot.
There's just one problem with Toure's allegation of CSKA supporters' racist remarks. The only other individual that claimed to hear such insults during the game was a sideline commentator, who mentioned that "in a couple of occasions, when Manchester City were attacking, there have been some monkey chants emanating from behind the CSKA goal...very disappointing indeed." The studio commentator continued his colleague's trail of thought, mentioning the ongoing Say No To Racism campaign. He then went on to say, "UEFA really have to take a tougher line on [the campaign] on countries where - let's, shall we say, they're less advanced in their thinking than we're used to at home". "Home", of course, must refer to England, and the English press made sure to take advantage. The Telegraph, for instance, cited numerous instances throughout the years in which fans of other Russian clubs engaged in racist behavior toward players. It should be noted that there is often a failure to distinguish between "fans"/"supporters" and "ultras", the latter of which are usually behind such atrocities.
It should also be noted that the referee has the right to stop the match at any time, especially if he hears inappropriate behavior from supporters of either side. Ovidiu Hategan, the match official who oversaw the game, failed to take any action.
CSKA wasted no time with their reply, posted on their official site the following day. According to the statement issued by the club,
Having carefully studied the video of the game, we found no racist insults from PFC CSKA supporters to the guests, and the match delegate confirmed it after the final whistle. In many episodes of the encounter, especially with the attacks on our goal, fans made disapproving noises, booed and whistled to put pressure on the opposite side's players regardless of their race.
The statement goes on to say that,
It is also important that in the whole history of participation in European cups our club has never been observed or punished for racist behavior of fans.
In light of their current period of consistently poor performances at home and abroad, the diversity within the team itself, and the transparency of video, I'm sure it's not in CSKA's best interests to lie about the matter.
CSKA forward Seydou Doumbia, Toure's teammate in the Ivory Coast national team, denied hearing anything of a racist nature from the stands. "Yes, [the fans] are noisy and try to put maximum pressure on the opponent, but they make no racist chants," Doumbia said. "So my fellow Cote d'Ivoire international has obviously overreacted a little bit".
That overreaction may cost the Army Men, depending on what UEFA may find. According to Article 14 of the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations, punishments for racist behavior of a club's supporters can range from "a partial stadium closure" to "deduction of points" and even "disqualification from the competition".
What motive, claim Toure's supporters, would the English have to set this up and oust the under-achieving Russian team from the tournament? It's not like they're currently contenders. But a closer inspection would lead one to see beyond the game itself.
Mainstream media often follows a rule of thumb: if it looks like politics, it must be politics. For one thing, sport has, on occasion, been used to fuel political antagonism. It reaches a lot of people, and it's very convenient for the mainstream media to take a player's - more so a famous one's - word for it. Any opportunity to make Russian football - and therefore Russia - look bad would be taken up pretty quickly. Make no mistake: it's a mud-slinging war that extends beyond the realms of 'official' debating among the governing elites.
If UEFA finds no evidence of racist supporters, the grumbling English will be forced to retreat and try again some other time. Knowing history likes to repeat itself, they most certainly will.