Russia reject racism allegation
2018 hopefuls attempt to play down the actions of Lokomotiv fans
Last Updated: September 2, 2010 3:03pm
Odemwingie: Target of banner
The head of Russia's 2018 World Cup bid Alexei Sorokin insists racism is not rife within the country.
The actions of a section of Lokomotiv Moscow supporters have brought the issue to the fore ahead of a crucial period for the nation, as they await Fifa's decision on 2nd December as to who will be awarded hosting rights for football's showpiece event.
Lokomotiv fans recently unveiled a banner during one of their games aimed at Nigerian forward Peter Odemwingie, which showed a banana and said: 'Thanks West Brom'.
Many have judged their antics as an act of racism, but Sorokin claims those accusations are wide of the mark.
He says that in Russia the phrase 'to get a banana' is slang for 'to fail a test'.
Odemwingie, though, is in no doubt that the message was racist, despite Sorokin's protests to the contrary.
Sorokin said: "The Russian Football Union doesn't accept any demonstrations of racism.
"I know that this banner applied to a certain player and to the manner of how he played in his last matches.
"Apparently fans were not happy with the fact that he plays better for Nigeria and worse for the club. That's why they have shown their satisfaction after he left. And there is nothing racial in it.
"If there would be another player - from Russia, Denmark, Norway or Japan, for example - the reaction could be the same. In Russia 'to get a banana' means 'to fail a test somewhere'."
Sorokin said some black players such as Brazil's Vagner Love, who has recently returned to CSKA Moscow, had become fans' heroes.
He added: "About five years ago one Russian international was booed as well and received the same banners. This is a free expression of the will but there are all kinds of measures for those who misbehave.
"The Russian Football Union doesn't absolutely accept any demonstrations of racism and roughly restrains them with all available methods."
Odemwingie, who left Lokomotiv for West Brom this summer, claims he was subjected to racial abuse throughout his time in Russia.
He said: "Sadly, it's a picture of a minority group in Russia - it really makes you feel sick but that is what it is."