Russia’s going to keep suspending players who flip off racists

With talk about racism, sexism and various other -isms focused on England these days, Russia has probably been feeling neglected, a shame because that nation seems so serious about having the most villainous soccer league in the world. If that’s a title it plans to keep. Russia needed someone to embrace their national duty and do something disgusting enough to bring our attention back where it belongs. (Un)fortunately, Artur Grigoryants, the head of the Russian Football Union’s disciplinary committee, is a patriot.

Grigoryants and his committee have a quaint and peculiar custom: When black players receive racial abuse from fans and respond with an “unpleasant gesture” of their own, they hand out punishment … to the gesticulating players, as well as the clubs involved.

It’s victim blaming on a level that doesn’t seem plausible, let alone real. Earlier this season, Dinamo Moscow defender Christopher Samba was suspended two games for responding to Torpedo Moscow fans with middle fingers. FC Alania Vladikavkaz’s Ivorian defender Dacosta Goore had previously received the same punishment for making the gesture toward the same fan base. Yes, Torpedo and it’s supporters were punished in both cases, but the supposed larger intended effect of those sanctions — the idea that you’re telling your fans and the rest of the world that racial abuse is impermissible at your club — is totally negated when you punish the targeted players, as though they need to take some responsibility for the conflict.

When asked about has disciplinary committee’s policy, Grigoryants said that players who have emotional responses to racist fans are “so-called, in inverted commas, ‘victims'” and it was right to punish them for a lack of “control.” Obviously, this is complete bullshit. Not finished insulting everyone’s intelligence, Grigoryants added that there are only “rare cases of racism” in Russian soccer. His math doesn’t quite add up to reality.

“Be the bigger man” or “turn the other cheek” is easy to say for people who are rarely subjected to the kind of vitriol received by black players in Russia. It’s convenient (or arrogant) to think grown men with pride should be obligated to maintain a level of civility that thousands of others could not while directing hate speech at them in their workplace. “Don’t stoop to their level” is advice you give to someone because you don’t want to be reminded of a particularly ugly reality, and you’ve opted to place the burden of calm on a victim’s shoulders because it’s easier for you.

In a perfect world, a player responding to fans with so-called dignified silence would make a light go on in the dark minds of their abusers, but humans don’t work that way. Hate, sadness, anger and rage don’t work that way. Not only is it unfair to punish abused players for their reactions, it’s proof that Russian authorities only punish racist fans out a sense of obligation, not an interest in changing culture.