Nationality by colour? Pogrebnyak remarks re-light Russian racism debate

March 19 – The Russian Football Union is set to investigate  remarks made by former international striker Pavel Pogrebnyak regarding black players competing for the national team.

Football-related racism has long been viewed as an ongoing problem in Russia with several instances of discrimination even though the authorities bent over backwards in the build-up to last summer’s World Cup to suggest it was no worse than anywhere else.

But now Pogrebnyak has come under scrutiny over publicly aired comments about Brazilian-born, naturalised Russian striker Ariclenes da Silva Ferreira, also known as Ari, who plays for Krasnodar and has two caps for his new national side.

“It’s weird when a black player plays for the Russian national team,” 35-year-old Pogrebnyak, who won 33 caps, said in an interview with the Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid.

“I am against [the naturalisation of foreign footballers]. I don’t understand the point of it, I don’t understand why Ari got a Russian passport,” Pogrebnyak, who in the past has played in the English Premier League and German Bundesliga, was quoted as saying.

Alexander Baranov, deputy chief of the Russian Premier League’s anti-discrimination committee,  told TASS that Pogrebnyak, who now plays in the Russian top flight for Ural Yekaterinburg,  might be suspended or fined for his remarks while Mikhail Fedotov, head of the presidential Human Rights Council in Russia, said the Russia striker’s comments “smelt of racism”.

“I believe that any football player who plays well and has Russian citizenship has a right to represent the Russian national side,” Fedotov told the TV channel Moscow 360. “The colour of their skin, eyes, hair and everything else has no significance. This should be obvious to anyone.”

Pogrebnyak has subsequently sought to clarify his comments, telling Sport24: “In the interview I voiced my strictly personal opinion that in the Russian national side I would like to see footballers who were born and raised in our country. That is all. I did not mean to insult anyone.”

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