Brazil striker Hulk, who criticised racist attitudes in Russian football last week, has been replaced among the personality assistants at the World Cup draw here tomorrow.
A statement issued by world federation FIFA blamed “club commitments with FC Zenit” for the need to bring in former Russia midfielder Alexey Smertin instead of Hulk.
Zenit, coached by Andre Villas-Boas, have just apparently realised they play this weekend in Yekaterinburg, three hours distant from St Petersburg by air, albeit not until Sunday.
Old heroes who are confirmed as joining FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke on stage at the Konstantinovsky Palace for the draw include Brazil’s Ronaldo, Diego Forlan, Fabio Cannavaro, Samuel Eto’o, Oliver Bierhoff, Alexander Kerzhakov, Rinat Dasaev, Rabah Madjer and Predrag Rajkovic.
Hulk (full name Givanildo Vieira de Sousa), who cost Zenit a Russian record €60m from Porto in 2012, had said he faced racism including monkey chants in “almost every game” in Russia and feared for the crowd atmosphere at the World Cup finals.
The 28-year-old added: “If this happens in the World Cup, it will be really gross and really ugly. Usually it happens only in Russian club competition and it doesn’t come out to the world and the world doesn’t know about this.
“I see this happening at almost every game. I used to get angry, but now I see this doesn’t help so I just blow a kiss to our fans instead.”
In December, Hulk alleged he was racially abused by Russian referee Alexei Matyunin during a league game. The referee was cleared by the Russian Football Union on grounds of insufficient evidence.
The controversy over racism in Russian football escalated when Ghanaian Emmanuel Frimpong complained he was a target of racial abuse in the recent opening round of the new Russian league season while playing for FC Ufa against Spartak Moscow.
The former Arsenal player responded with a single-finger gesture to Spartak fans, was sent off and banned for two games, a punishment which infuriated his own Ghana federation and has been queried by FIFA.
Frimpong said on Twitter that he had been “racially abused for the game that I love. I’m going to serve a sentence for being abused … yet we (are) going to hold a World Cup in this country.”
Alexei Sorokin, the World Cup local organising ceo, responded tht Russia was not the only country with a racism problem among fans but that the World Cup would involve a different crowd mix in any case.
A report earlier this year from an anti-discrimination group alleged more than 200 incidents of racist and discriminatory behaviour linked to Russian football over two seasons. The Russians have disputed the figures.
A need for greater education over the issue as well as preventative measures were pinpointed on Thursday in St Petersburg by Yuri Boychenko, who heads the anti-discrimination section of the United Nations Human Rights Office.
He told a press conference: “I believe recognition is coming. It’s a behavioural problem and a society problem. In Russia there is no clear understanding of what racism means. It’s not black and white and white and black only. It’s also about the issue of ethnicities, religious affiliation, culture, language etc.”