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Bananas, a sign of a serious problem

Anzhi’s new signing Samba caught up in racism controversy

Christopher-SambaRussian football keeps slipping on a banana skin. Anzhi Makhachkala's African centre-back Christopher Samba became the latest victim of racist abuse during his team's game away to Lokomotiv Moscow.
The incident was the third of its kind in the Russian top flight in the past year. In March 2011a Zenit fan waved a banana at Anzhi’s former Brazil left-back Roberto Carlos during a game in St Petersburg, while in June a banana was thrown from the stands during Anzhi’s game at Samara Kryliya Sovetov.
A 23-year-old Samara fan, Vyacheslav Prokhorov, admitted responsibility after police tracked him down months later, but he insisted it had been no more than a sign of frustration at his team’s performance. While the club were fined, it was difficult for the authorities to punish the perpetrator himself since racism is not covered by the "hooliganism" clause of Russian law. The maximum punishment Prokhorov faces is a ban on attending matches.

In the most recent case, both Lokomotiv and Anzhi accused each other's fans. A spectator allegedly ran down to the first row of the VIP section 15 minutes before the end of the game, then waited for the players to start heading into the tunnel before throwing a banana at Congo international Samba.
Unlike Roberto Carlos, who just threw the banana to the side of the pitch, Samba hurled it back to the stands. The 26-year-old former Blackburn Rovers player, who joined Guus Hiddink's team in February, said he was very sorry the whole episode had happened in front of kids in the crowd but he may now be subject to disciplinary action himself.
With the growing influence of black players in Russia, racist chanting has become commonplace at games.

A Lokomotiv fan threw a banana at Christopher Samba, who hurled it back into the stands and may now face disciplinary action himself

Anzhi-MakhachkalaZenit, Russia's richest club, never had a black player in their squad and for a long time it has been alleged that the club's owners will do whatever they can to avoid a negative reaction from the fans. The club's former Dutch coach Dick Advocaat once remarked that he “could not sign a black player without the fans' permission, which was unlikely to ever happen”. The irony is that St Petersburg is often called “the cultural capital of Russia", yet Zenit supporters do nothing to hide their unwillingness to "respect diversity” in their team's line-up.

Bananas are not just thrown from the stands in Moscow. Lokomotiv fans gave a have notorious send-off to Tashkent-born Nigeria striker Peter Odemwingie when he left the club for England two years ago. A banner showing a banana and the message "Thank you West Bromwich!” was hung from the stands in the game following his departure.
The Russian football authorities tried to turn it into a joke, saying that "banana" stands for “two", a low school mark in kids’ slang. However, 30-year-old Odemwingie chose not to return to Moscow despite being offered a salary three times what he was earning at West Brom, whose fans had replied with a "Thank you Lokomotiv!” banner. Odemwingie said that in his three years with the Moscow club, he experienced racist chanting at every game.

Samba case review

In line with UEFA's Euro 2012 anti¬racism monitoring campaign, the Russian Premier League's ethics committee will review Samba’s case, while the league's security committee is conducting its own investigation. But as international old-timer Vagiz Khidiyatullin, who is now head of the Russian players' union, said, "it would be much easier to stop importing bananas".

Meanwhile Anzhi's appointment of Hiddink as coach - on a reported annual salary of €8.6million, easily the highest in the league - raised many eyebrows. Hiddink replaced Yuri Krasnozhan, one of the country's most gifted and respected football specialists, who was not given a chance to lead his side in a single official game. If it had been any coach other than Hiddink, the whole thing would have given rise to a tsunami of criticism. Instead, the Dutchman's charisma, along with fond memories of Russia's Euro 2008 campaign, gave an emotional green light to his new venture, enhanced by Hiddink’s own kind words about Russia and his pledge to raise a new generation of young Russian players at Anzhi.

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