Footballer in Russia banned for reacting to alleged racism

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) Russian football's handling of racism cases faced renewed criticism ahead of Saturday's 2018 World Cup qualifying draw after a player received a two-game ban for his angry reaction to alleged abuse.

Spartak Moscow, whose fans were accused of taunting FC Ufa midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong, were not punished by the Russian Football Union on Wednesday.

''For the Russian FA to say they didn't hear or see any evidence of racism is beyond a joke,'' Frimpong, who is black, wrote to more than 750,000 Twitter followers.

Frimpong, a Ghanaian who has played for Arsenal in the English Premier League, said he had ''no problems'' with being banned for the actual finger gesture to Spartak fans, around 30 minutes into their opening game of the season in the Russian top-flight.

The RFU, which said Frimpong was banned for an ''offensive gesture to spectators,'' did fine Spartak 20,000 rubles ($350), but only because objects were thrown onto the pitch.

The case showed that ''Russian authorities remain deaf to racism,'' according to football anti-discrimination group FARE, who published a report in February documenting more than 200 incidents of racist and discriminatory behavior linked to Russian football over two seasons.

The Russian government disputes the figures but FIFA President Sepp Blatter told The Associated Press that they ''concerned'' the governing body.

The Frimpong incident was followed by Zenit St. Petersburg's striker Hulk disclosing Monday at a FIFA-organized media event that he encounters racism in ''almost every game'' in Russia.

After expressing fears that racism could tarnish the World Cup in three years' time, the Brazil international was then announced Wednesday as an assistant for Saturday's qualifying draw, which will be attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg.

''(Hulk) was particularly chosen because he is playing here in Russia, he is a football icon,'' FIFA spokeswoman Delia Fischer said. ''But naturally the topic of anti-discrimination is a very important topic for FIFA and ... in May we launched a monitoring system for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.''

Hulk, the most expensive signing in Russian Premier League history at 60 million euros (then $75 million) in 2012, has repeatedly faced monkey chants in the country and also accused a referee of racially abusing him.

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Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris

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