A little over a week ago I posted my opinion that FIFA should pass Russia over as a World Cup host due to a racist banner that flew at Lokomotiv Moscow's stadium. I'll admit that my reaction was visceral, and that I didn't not have a full sense of racism's place in Russian soccer when I wrote it. One banner in one stadium does not make a pattern, and I did not have evidence of a pervasive racist culture when I flatly stated that Russia shouldn't get a World Cup based on one incident.
Now there's this, from Russian World Cup CEO and RFU general director Alexei Sorokin:
"I know that this banner applied to a certain player and to the manner of how he played in his last matches," said Sorokin. "Apparently fans were not happy with the fact that he plays better for Nigeria and worse for the club. That's why they have shown their satisfaction after he left. And there is nothing racial in it. "If there would be another player - from Russia, Denmark, Norway or Japan, for example - the reaction could be the same. In Russia 'to get a banana' means 'to fail a test somewhere'."
If that seems like an excuse, and you don't buy it one bit, don't worry because you're not alone. The linked BBC piece goes on to quote an expert on Russian extremism who says the RFU is willfully ignoring racism in the game. Add the statements of black players who say they faced racist treatment in Russia, and we now have a bit more evidence to go on. Russian clubs have been fined in the past for racist behavior by their fans; why this incident does not merit action, I do not quite understand.
Russia's bid may or may not suffer from this particular incident, though I think it was incredibly stupid of Sorokin to try to explain it away with the spotlight firmly on the bidding nations only a few months prior to the final decision.
Apparently, FIFA's inspection team did not bring up the issue while they were there to tour the Russian bid sites. So maybe it doesn't matter.