On Tuesday, CSKA Moscow will face the difficult challenge of going up against Manchester City in the Champions League. It will do so in an empty stadium following UEFA sanctions — fines, a three-match stadium ban at home, and a ban from buying tickets to away games — for a repeated pattern of awful behavior from fans. This being Russian soccer, CSKA supporters’ favorite way to express their horribleness is usually through racist chants and gestures, aimed at any and every player darker than the background of this blog post.
When asked what he thought about the stadium ban, CSKA’s Nigerian striker (NIGERIAN striker) Ahmed Musa told reporters:
“Yeah, it’s unfair. We are going to miss the fans in the ground and it will be difficult for us to play without them there. But we will try our best to win the game.”
This is the third time CSKA Moscow has been punished in some way for racist fan behavior. To catch you up, here’s a quick run down of their supporters’ greatest (recent) hits, all of which were denied by team officials:
- Fined $252,000 for throwing flares and missiles onto the field.
- Monkey chants directed at Yaya Touré and the referee in previous Champions League game against Manchester City.
- Fans taken to the hospital with stab wounds after fighting with opposing fans and police after taking a 5-1 beating away to Roma
- Fans charged with “displaying far-right symbols” in a match at Viktoria Plzen.
There are two immediate and unpleasant reactions to Musa’s comments. The first is the emotional, harsh, and possibly irrational one — the one where you want to grab Musa by the shoulders, shake the hell out of him, and ask, “What kind of self-loathing, ignorant asshole are you? How can you even agree to play for these fans, let alone call these punishments unfair? Is the money that good? Did no one else offer you a contract? Has being in European football since the age of 18 (Musa is 22 now) beaten you down to the point that you believe CSKA fans’ behavior to be acceptable, or somehow normal? What, exactly, is wrong with you?”
The second is the more measured, reasonable, concerned response. The one where you want to grab Musa by the shoulders and calmly ask “Ahmed, are you OK? Are you being forced to say something this stupid? Blink twice if you need help.” Maybe that’s the case. Maybe Musa knows the fans of his chosen club are horrible people, but at the same time he’s afraid to speak out against them. He’s witnessed first-hand how CSKA Moscow fans respond to people who look like him or offer opposing sociopolitical views. A threat from club supporters doesn’t have to be spoken directly to Musa to be real. Their track record alone could be a constant reminder to Musa that, no mater what he does on the field, he’ll never be truly accepted by the home fans, and being seen as an enemy is a very dangerous position to find himself in.
Regardless of his motivation — or worse, lack of motivation — what Musa said was both confusing and disappointing. Racism in the global game only seems to be getting worse — particularly in Russia — as society supposedly progresses and evolves in its views on the subject.
For anything to improve in soccer, the primary recipients of hatred have to be the loudest and most visible opposition to unacceptable behavior. Black players need to understand the power they have within the game, come together and make a collective effort to demand the basic levels of respect they inherently deserve, but often do not receive. Hopefully, in time , Ahmed Musa and others will understand that, or feel safe and strong enough to speak out.
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