Michael Pavitt

How many times would the Russian Football Union (RFU) need to sanction FC Avangard for Nazi chants before they could pay Neymar's £196 million ($257 million/€222 million) buy-out clause? My maths makes it around 301,075 times.

The thought occurred to me when weighing up the increasingly nonsensical transfer window and fines dished out to Russian football clubs for discriminatory offences at recent matches.   

Sanctions were issued by the RFU earlier this month after they confirmed the establishment of a new anti-discrimination monitoring system.

The system was developed by the RFU in conjunction with FIFA. While the premise is to clamp down on discrimination in general at matches, it seems clear the move is in response to the continuing concerns about the threat of racist incidents overshadowing next year's FIFA World Cup.

Alexei Smertin, who is in charge of investigating football racism in Russia, was confident the system would have an impact on preventing potential incidents from occurring.

"The main task of the new anti-discrimination monitoring system is to create a favourable and friendly atmosphere in the stands in the matches of the Russian Premier League," he claimed. "This system has proved itself well in the Confederations Cup, and we are confident that it will be extremely useful in the Russian championship.

"Ahead of us is the World Cup, and we want the culture of supporting teams at Russian stadiums to meet the highest international standards not only during this grand football festival, but also after its completion, becoming part of the tournament's legacy for the entire national football."

Alexei Smertin lauded the establishment of an anti-discrimination monitoring system this month ©Getty Images
Alexei Smertin lauded the establishment of an anti-discrimination monitoring system this month ©Getty Images

The development of the system is clearly a step in the right direction and also marks an interesting about-turn from Smertin, a man who claimed racism did not exist in Russia back in 2015.

Russia's hosting of the Confederations Cup passed largely without incident, with no reported cases of racism. Former Zenit St Petersburg striker Hulk also expressed his view earlier this month that racism is no longer a problem in Russian football. 

These positive notions were damned somewhat by three cases, which were highlighted by the new system, at the start of the Russian football season.

Russian champions Spartak Moscow were sanctioned after their fans directed a racist chant at Lokomotiv Moscow's goalkeeper Guilherme during their 2-1 win in the Russian Super Cup at the Lokomotiv Stadium. The Brazilian-born goalkeeper was a member of the Russian squad for the Confederations Cup.

Dynamo Moscow were fined following "discriminatory gestures" aimed at Spartak players during a 2-2 draw in a league match, while second tier team FC Avangard were sanctioned for "Nazi" chants by its fans.

Both Spartak and Dynamo were given fines of 250,000 rubles (£3,261/$4,240/€3,640) in regard to their cases, while Avangard received a sanction of 50,000 rubles (£651/$850/€728). The clubs were warned the sanctions could increase should further incidents occur.

It is all well and good having an anti-discrimination system in place, but it defeats the purpose somewhat when the punishments are so minuscule. For perspective, Nick Butler and I have just received a higher bill from UK energy giants EON than Avangard chalked up for the chanting. While it evidently shows the high price of energy nowadays, not that I am bitter in any way, it also reflects the pitiful approach taken to dealing with incidents of discrimination in football.

Certainly, policing incidents in a crowd is a difficult task and this in not just a Russian problem. The focus has been placed on them because they are hosting the World Cup next year. In similar fashion the attention was on Poland and Ukraine in the build-up to the European Championships in 2012.

In the past month, Chelsea footballer Kenedy was sent home from the club’s pre-season tour of China for discriminatory remarks made on social media. One video posted by the Brazilian was captioned "F***ing China" before a second clip was posted of a sleeping security guard with the caption: "Wake up China. You idiot".

Chelsea player Kenedy was sent home from the club's pre-season tour after making discriminatory comments about China ©Getty Images
Chelsea player Kenedy was sent home from the club's pre-season tour after making discriminatory comments about China ©Getty Images

Naturally the player posted an apology when the controversy kicked off, while the club talked up their love of China and stated Kenedy had received some form of sanction, unpublished of course, in a bid to appease their Chinese supporters.

"His behaviour does not represent the entire team and does not align with the club's high expectations and strict requirements of its young players," the club's statement read. "He has been strongly reprimanded and disciplined.

"Everyone at Chelsea Football Club has the utmost respect and admiration for China and loves our Chinese fans. It is because of this that the negative impact we have seen over the last two days has left us shocked and saddened. Once again, we sincerely apologise for the hurt caused to our Chinese fans as well as to the Chinese people."

It is difficult to take statements like this seriously, regardless of how sincerely they are meant. A form of club suspension would have been a strong message from Chelsea, but by opting not to publish the details it leaves people guessing. Ultimately, they will assume that it was just a slap on the wrist.

Let us not forget the controversy which arose last year when Pescara midfielder Sulley Muntari was the victim of racial abuse during a Serie A match against Cagliari. Amazingly, he was booked for dissent when he reported the issue to referee Daniele Minelli. The 32-year-old Ghanaian was then sent off for a second yellow card after he walked off the pitch in protest.

Serie A's Disciplinary Committee, which eventually overturned Muntari’s one match ban, described the chanting as "deplorable", but said it could not impose sanctions against Cagliari because only around 10 supporters were involved in abusing Muntari, less than one per cent of the home fans inside the Stadio Sant'Elia.

FIFA, who had come under-fire for their decision last year to disband their anti-racism task force when secretary general Fatma Samoura claimed their work had been "completed", defended their record after the incident.

Barcelona's Neymar is at the centre of speculation over a potential world record transfer ©Getty Images
Barcelona's Neymar is at the centre of speculation over a potential world record transfer ©Getty Images

A brief scroll through the disciplinary section on European governing body UEFA's website highlights the attitude towards discrimination at matches. Generally the largest punishment dished out is the closure or partial closure of a stadium in UEFA competitions, with fines in the hundreds of thousands also frequent.

Clearly, this is not enough for a sport awash with money. The back pages of newspapers around Europe this summer have been largely dominated by ludicrous fees being paid by clubs for players during the transfer window.

Currently teams in the top five divisions in Europe are believed to have spent in the region of £2.5 billion ($3.2 billion/€2.7 million) in the first month of the window. With the eye-watering figures mentioned with regards to Barcelona striker Neymar and Monaco's young star Kylian Mbappe, the final sum could be vastly higher.

For top clubs, the fines dished out for discriminatory behaviour are not even pocket change, more the one or two coins found down the back of the sofa.

It would surely make sense to significantly bump up the level of fines clubs are forced to pay should incidents occur. Perhaps it could even be a percentage of the money spent by clubs on transfers. That way the fines would be more proportionate to the size of clubs. Small teams would not be put out of business by sanctions, while larger clubs would have a genuinely significant sanction to compel them to treat issues more seriously.

While the game continues to evolve with the rising fees, perhaps sanctioning for offences needs to evolve with it.