A teenaged soccer player has had his contract cancelled by Russian second-division side Torpedo Moscow, just six days after signing it — because fans of the club did not want to have a black player on their team.
Erving Botaka-Yoboma, a defender who was born in Russia but is of Congolese descent, signed for Torpedo last week — which prompted a torrent of protest and abuse from Torpedo fans on Russian social media.
“Dear Torpedo leadership, since you consider it permissible to come to our house, to our family, and not to respect our traditions and rules, then we reserve the same right!” a group called the Zapad-5 Ultras wrote on VK, the Russian equivalent of Facebook. “Let’s see to whom this will be better!” Another wrote that “black may be one of our club’s colors, but we only want whites in our ranks.”
Unbelievable. Torpedo Moscow announce Erving Botaka will not play for the club days after signing him. Reason? The ultras were protesting against signing a black player and threatened the board.
Year 2018 it is.
— Artur Petrosyan (@arturpetrosyan) July 19, 2018
In response, the leadership of Torpedo cancelled Botaka-Yoboma’s contract, claiming that the offer was rescinded due to financial reasons and that racism had nothing to do with the decision. Other Torpedo Ultras attempted to explain away their hostility to Botaka-Yoboma because the defender had previously spent time at rival Lokomotiv Moscow — despite the fact that Lokomotiv currently plays in a different division. Torpedo Moscow has also repeatedly faced sanctions over their fans’ racist antics.
Alexander Zotov, who heads the All-Russian Union of Footballers, condemned the incident. “There have been changes in attitude after the World Cup, but a group of idiots still remains,” he told Sport24.ru on Wednesday. “People with a limited worldview exist in any country. We saw how open our society and people were [during the tournament].”
The incident is an ugly reminder that, despite the multicultural good-will that Russia experienced and took part in during the World Cup, racism is still an endemic problem in the country. In January, the club Spartak Moscow found itself at the center of a racism storm when they tweeted a video of three black players with the caption “See how chocolates melt in the sun.” In March during a warm-up friendly for the World Cup, French players Paul Pogba and Ousmane Dembele were the subject of racist taunting. Prior to the cup, England defender Danny Rose told his family he didn’t want them to come to see him play in Russia, over fears they’d be racially abused.
You’d have thought that Torpedo Ultras might have learned a thing or from the World Cup final where France, a team composed of players with ties to Algeria, Cameroon, Guinea and Martinique to name but a few, thrashed Croatia to win the tournament 4-2. However, it appears the subtlety of the lesson was lost on them.