MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's top official in charge of adjudicating football racism cases has suggested that black players should not be considered real victims of racial abuse if they react with an "unpleasant gesture."
Artur Grigoryants, head of the Russian Football Union's disciplinary committee, was commenting on cases in which his commission had issued multi-game bans to black players who made rude gestures to fans following racist abuse.
Speaking to The Associated Press, Grigoryants referred to the players in question—including former Queens Park Rangers defender Christopher Samba—as "so-called, in inverted commas, victims" and insisted it was right to punish them for losing "control."
Russia, the 2018 World Cup host, has only "rare cases of racism" at stadiums, Grigoryants added.
Samba was banned for two games in September for gesturing to Torpedo Moscow fans who taunted him with monkey chants while he played a Russian Premier League game for Dynamo Moscow.
"He showed an unpleasant gesture to the stands and that's a punishable offense," Grigoryants said. "Yes, there was a provocation from the stands but a player should keep himself under control and so we decided to punish the club for the occurrence and we punished Samba."
Torpedo was ordered to close part of its stadium for one game as a result of the abuse.
In similar cases in Russia, Ivorian defender Dacosta Goore was banned for two games in 2013 for gesturing to racially abusive Spartak Moscow fans, and Gabonese midfielder Guelor Kanga received a three-game ban for the same offense in November, also while playing against Spartak.
In Goore's case, Spartak was fined for racist abuse, but it was not punished over Kanga. Grigoryants said the disciplinary committee had not been able to prove there had been racist abuse.
Grigoryants also said that Russia has only "rare cases of racism" at stadiums, adding: "We're on the way to liquidating it completely."
His comments clash with a report published last week by two anti-discrimination organizations, which detailed more than 200 cases of discriminatory behavior linked to Russian soccer over two seasons.
In response to the report, FIFA president Sepp Blatter told the AP that Russia could face sanctions if its record on racism does not improve.
On Tuesday, the football union's general secretary Anatoly Vorobyov told the AP that the organization would crack down on the "virus" of racism ahead of the World Cup and suggested that enforcement of existing anti-racism measures had been lax.
"We have enough disciplinary measures which are laid out in our regulations. On the other hand, perhaps they need to be used more strictly," Vorobyov said.