Tuesday 12 December 2017

Former Chelsea star Alexei Smertin handed anti-racism role by Russian Football Union despite controversial remarks in 2015

Alexei Smertin
Alexei Smertin

Former Chelsea midfielder Alexei Smertin has been appointed as the Russian Football Union's anti-racism and discrimination inspector.

The 41-year-old, who also played for Portsmouth, Charlton and Fulham, previously denied racism was a problem in Russian football. Russia hosts the 2018 World Cup.

In a statement on the Russian Football Union's official website announcing his appointment, Smertin said: "Ahead of the 2017 Confederations Cup and 2018 World Cup, Russia, as a country hosting such big international tournaments, should be an example of global tolerance both on and off the football field.

"And we will definitely show that."

He added he would "put every effort into keeping racism and discrimination out of the story of football in my country".

Former Russia captain Smertin in September 2015 told the BBC's World Football programme: "There's no racism in Russia, because it does not exist."

His comments came after anti-discrimination group FARE documented over 100 incidences of racist and discriminatory behaviour linked to Russian football over two seasons.

FARE executive director Piara Powar welcomed the appointment of Smertin.

Powar, who has met Smertin, told Press Association Sport: "It's a positive appointment.

"He's working with the Russian FA, not the LOC (World Cup local organising committee). That suggests it's more about the structure of Russian football, not just the World Cup.

"I think the comments he made previously were in the context of the denial from the Russians after our initial report on incidents in Russia.

"I think in private and also publicly now he would be quite clear about the challenges Russia faces.

"The problem I think in Russia is doublespeak."

Questions remain about the extent of Smertin's remit and powers, Powar added.

Smertin's appointment comes following a BBC documentary highlighting hooliganism in Russia.

Russian officials reacted angrily to the report, while they may do so again soon when FARE publishes figures for the 2015-16 season.

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