Russia claims progress vs. soccer racism

MOSCOW — Russia has made progress fighting soccer racism ahead of next year’s World Cup, but players, coaches and fans still risk abuse, a new report says.

There were 89 racist and far-right incidents at Russian games in the 2016-17 season, slightly below the two previous seasons, according to today’s report by European anti-discrimination group FARE and Russia-based SOVA.

In one case, an African player complained of racist abuse by an opponent during a Russian Premier League game. In another case, a hardline fan group segregated part of a stadium for people of “Slavic appearance,” the report alleges. Fans of Russian champion Spartak Moscow flew anti-Semitic banners.

The Russian Football Union’s disciplinary committee, however, has said it didn’t detect a single racist incident in any of the top three divisions this season.

The report comes ahead of the Confederations Cup, starting Saturday, and a year ahead of the World Cup.

“The Russian football authorities and the government authorities have realized … the way both of these competitions will be tarnished by the fear of racism occurring and they’ve taken some quite strong measures,” FARE’s executive director Piara Powar told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “There still remains the danger of some isolated incidents taking place.”

Russian authorities have taken measures to blacklist at least 191 fans from attending sports events, while the RFU ejected an influential fan leader, Alexander Shprygin, from its organization. He was deported twice from France last year following violence around Russia’s match with England at the European Championship, and has been accused of posting far-right symbols on social media, a charge he denied.

Shprygin was dragged out of a bathroom at an RFU conference in September by police and detained, reportedly in connection with an investigation into fan violence.