The 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying draws will be made in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Saturday, July 25 (today). And in the draw, 141 nations will know the route to take to secure a place in the 32-nation final tournament.
Perhaps an imminent taint to the draws will be the presence of FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, for his continued insistence on remaining as FIFA president, having ostensibly stepped aside on July 2, after winning a mandate for a fifth term at the helm of world football’s governing body.
An even bigger taint is however the issue of institutionalised racism in Russia as evidenced in past events in its stadiums. Just this week, Alexandr Smertin allegedly replaced Brazilian star, Hulk, in the draws programme because of the latter’s outspokenness on racism.
Hulk had said that racism happens at almost every stadium he has played in on the books of Zenit, his Russian football club. “It (racism) happens at almost every match in Russia but the world does not hear about it because they try to keep it quiet,”
The case of Ghanaian midfielder, Emmanuel Frimpong, is also quite fresh. The former Arsenal player said he was racially abused in the league match between FC Ufa and Spartak Moscow. He reacted by giving the finger to the fans and was red carded. The Russian football Federation has since suspended him for two matches.
Nigeria has experienced the same fate. Super Eagles forward, Osaze Odemwingie, played for three seasons with Locomotiv Moscow. On his sale to West Brom in 2010, Lokomotiv fans celebrated with banners including one featuring a picture of a banana.
Cote d’Ivoire captain, Yaya Toure, has spoken variously about the issue and even advised that all black football players should boycott the 2018 World Cup although two notable black superstars, Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o and Brazil’s Ronaldo will be among the VIPs at the draws today. Eto’o played for two seasons with Anzhi Makhachkala.
Odemwingie revealed to the Daily Mail in 2010, “In a few stadiums it’s present, it’s obvious, you cannot pretend that you don’t see it.”
So if it is so apparent, what is FIFA’s deal? During the bidding process, the Russian team went to lengths to stress that racism was not a challenge. But a group called Farewell to Racism in Europe [FARE] recently released a report, to which Blatter acknowledged and said he was worried.
Even with the campaign against racism by FIFA, the question many have asked and keep asking is why FIFA decided to take the World Cup to an apparently racist Russia? But like they say in show business, the show must go on.
Hence, today, Saturday 25 July, 2015, by 4pm Nigerian time, the draws will be conducted with all fanfare as we recall what Blatter said in March, “Racism is one of the items which is on my agenda on the very top, every day. If it does not stop then there must be some sanctions.” Apparently, moving the World cup to another country is exempted from the possible list of sanctions!