Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov has brushed aside fears that racism and hooliganism in domestic football are serious enough to mar the World Cup later this year.
But his reassurance came as 10 time champions Spartak Moscow received a suspended stadium ban on Tuesday for abusive chants at a weekend derby against city rivals Lokomotiv.
“I do not think that we have racism on a scale that needs to be fought,” Cherchesov told Brazil’s Globo TV.
“Hooligans? I have not seen any serious displays of it,” the former Soviet and Russian national team goalkeeper added.
Racism and violence are being monitored closely by organisers and the global football governing body FIFA as Russia prepares to host sport’s most watched event for the first time.
The Football against racism in Europe (FARE) anti-discrimination network reported 89 racist and far-right incidents at Russian games in the 2016/17 season.
The problem became especially acute in the last decade as richer clubs began purchasing Brazilian and African players.
FARE noted a more serious anti-racism campaign being waged by Russian authorities in the run-up to the June 14-July 15 competition.
But it said players and fans still risked abuse.
’50 seconds of chanting’
Some of Russia’s most popular clubs have also been the ones most frequently targeted by anti-discrimination watchdogs because of their following by radical nationalist groups.
The Russian Football Union’s disciplinary committee issued a final warning on Tuesday to Spartak for nearly a minute of racist chants hurled at Lokomotiv’s Brazilian goalkeeper Guilherme Marinato.
“We studied the audio and video. We heard 50 seconds of chanting,” committee chief Artur Grigoryants was quoted as saying by R-Sport.
Grigoryants explained that Spartak will face a partial stand closure if the chanting happens again. It was the third time that Spartak fans had targeted Marinato during games, although the other incidences happened in domestic cup and Super Cup matches.
“Now Spartak have (a final warning) in the Russian championship too,” Grigoryants said.
Spartak had already been hit by controversy in January when centre-back Georgi Dzhikiya used the team’s official Twitter account to send out a message likening its three Brazilian players to “chocolates”.
The BBC reported that Spartak only deleted the tweet after getting a call from the Kremlin.
Hooliganism became a major issue for Russia when an organised group of its supporters pounced on English fans ahead of a Euro 2016 match in the French port of Marseille.
Street clashes between followers of Spartak Moscow and Athletic Bilbao last month in Spain revived fears that Russia’s crackdown against so-called ultras was insufficient.
Cherchesov said there were still “isolated cases (of hooligans), and like in other countries, these people are punished”.
He added that Russia managed to stage a successful Confederations Cup last year and said he felt confident going into the World Cup.