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Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Leader of Russia's bid for World Cup 2018 aims swipe at England (UK)

• Russian suggests English football has racism problem
• Comments could fall foul of Fifa's bidding rules

Sorokin's comments were made in an interview with the Russian newspaper, Sport Express, and could contravene Fifa's rules which do not allow bid nations to criticise their rivals. He also accused the British media of running a campaign to besmirch Russia's reputation and suggested that English football has a problem dealing with racism.

"We do not enter into squabbles," he said. "It's no secret, for example, that London [has] the highest crime rate when compared with other European cities, and the highest level of alcohol consumption among young people."

Sorokin also took aim at the West Bromwich Albion forward, Peter Odemwingie. The former Lokomotiv Moscow player was the subject of a poster featuring a banana and the message "Thanks West Bromwich Albion" when he joined Roberto Di Matteo's side in the summer but Sorokin said he was merely using the incident for publicity.

He also insisted the burning of a US flag at Old Trafford, in a protest by Manchester United supporters against the club's American owners, the Glazers, on the same day as the Lokomotiv fans displayed the banana banner amounted to "inciting racial hatred".

"We were aware [of the flag burning] but did not focus on this," he said. "We could start a conversation about the lack of tolerance and inciting ethnic hatred by English fans but do not behave like the aunt in the kitchen criticising our neighbours. The [banana] banner was not racist. It was directed against a particular player who got very good money, lived very well here but for some reason did not seem to want to play well.

"Racism is a common problem, not just in Russia. All soccer countries have had this, including Britain. Naturally we must fight this and in the Russian Football Union we have a programme to combat all forms of racism."

When asked why Odemwingie had complained about the banner, Sorokin said: "Maybe he simply wants to become more popular. In any case I am sorry that this is happening."

Sorokin feels the British media placed such focus on the Odemwingie story to deflect attention away from the resignation of Lord Triesman as the chairman of England's bid.

"We realised that this would happen, just after the publication of the article about Lord Triesman," he added. "Because when the British – I mean the journalists rather than their bid – realised what they had done, they needed a way to divert attention away from this unpleasant story. And they did this by looking for negatives about a competitor."

The Guardian