Yaya Touré has warned Russia that players will boycott the 2018 World Cup finals if the country fails to adopt stringent measures to stamp out racism. Speaking after he alleged he was racially abused by a section of CSKA Moscow supporters during Wednesday night's Champions League game at the Khimki Arena, the Manchester City midfielder urged the country to take responsibility and deal with behaviour that he described as "unbelievable".
The Ivorian's comments increase the pressure on Fifa, as well as Uefa, to bring Russia into line and impose tougher sanctions on clubs that fail to combat racism. Touré claimed that he was racially abused "a few times" by "groups" of supporters, rather than a handful of individuals.
Uefa, after going through the report submitted by the referee, Ovidiu Hategan of Romania, and the match delegate, has confirmed that disciplinary proceedings have been opened against CSKA "for racist behaviour of their fans", as well as for setting off fireworks, during City's 2-1 win in the Russian capital.
CSKA, however, have risked inflaming an emotive issue and seriously damaging relations between the two clubs by expressing their disappointment at the allegations made by Touré and City officials and categorically denying that any racist abuse took place. The Russian club released an extraordinary statement in which Seydou Doumbia, CSKA's Ivorian striker, accused Touré, an international team-mate, of "clearly exaggerating".
Touré said he was "furious" after the match and it is a measure of how strongly the former Barcelona midfielder feels about the issue of racism in Russian football that he went as far as to suggest that players would refuse to take part in the World Cup finals in five years' time, unless the country cleans up its act.
Asked whether Russia needs to address the problem of racism before they host the World Cup, Touré replied: "Of course they do. It's very important. Otherwise if we are not confident coming to the World Cup in Russia, we don't come." Fifa and Uefa declined to comment on Touré's remarks.
CSKA, though, have denied wrongdoing. Their statement said: "Having carefully studied the video of the game, we found no racist insults from fans of CSKA. In many occasions, especially during attacks on our goal, fans booed and whistled to put pressure on rival players, but regardless of their race.
"In particular, this happened with Álvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko. Why the Ivorian midfielder took it as all being directed at him is not clear."
Doumbia was quoted as saying: "I didn't hear anything like that [racist abuse] from the CSKA fans. Yes, they're always noisy in supporting the team, and try to put as much pressure as possible on our opponents, but they wouldn't ever allow themselves to come out with racist chants. So my Ivory Coast colleague is clearly exaggerating."
CSKA's response has gone down particularly badly at City, who have no shortage of witnesses from outside as well as inside the club willing to back up Touré's allegations. Touré, who was City's captain in Moscow in the absence of the injured Vincent Kompany, made it clear that it was not a one-off incident on Wednesday night. "It was a few times, when I went into the goal area. I tried to score a goal and missed it, but some fans reacted," the 30-year-old said. "I know we have the fight against racism, but we are not kids and we have to stop it now. [Uefa] have to react. I want to stop this. It is always the same. I am unhappy because the reaction of the fans was unbelievable.
"We had some racism in Ukraine [where he played for Metalurh Donetsk earlier in his career] but maybe only one, two or three people, not in groups like that. If Uefa don't take action, it will continue. We always say there will be action or blah, blah, something like that, but we have do that. I don't know what else to say. A couple of months ago my friend [Kevin-Prince Boateng] plays with Milan and had the same problem. Now with me, it happens again. I hope they [Uefa] do something, ban the club or the stadium for two years."
The incident is a source of embarrassment for Uefa, which had declared this a Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) Action Week. Uefa has said that its control and disciplinary body will convene on 30 October to decide if CSKA should face sanctions. Under regulations brought in place at the start of the season, if CSKA's supporters are found guilty of racist behaviour, the most likely punishment is partial closure of their ground, because it would be the club's first offence. A second offence leads to a full stadium closure and a fine.
It remains to be seen whether Uefa will also review the way that Hategan, the Romanian referee, handled the incident. Touré complained to Hategan during the game that he was racially abused and, under the new regulations, the official should have stopped the game and asked for an announcement to be made over the public address system requesting that the racist behaviour stops. Hategan, however, allowed play to carry on.
Bobby Barnes, the PFA deputy chief executive, who is also European president on the international players' union FIFPro, said: "We're very disappointed that a clear agreed protocol which is designed to deal with these situations was not effected." Lord Ouseley, the Kick It Out chairman, went a step further. "The referee should not be refereeing again," Ouseley said.
For Russia, the Touré incident once again highlights the problem of racist behaviour at football matches in the country and raises further questions about its suitability to host the World Cup finals. Although CSKA strongly denied that Touré was racially abused, the 2018 Fifa World Cup Russia Local Organising Committee treaded more carefully and admitted there is work to do in the country to "positively change mindsets and behaviour".
Its statement said: "Whilst the alleged incidents are still under investigation by the relevant authorities it is worth restating that all stakeholders in Russian football have made it clear that there is absolutely no place for any type of racial discrimination or abuse in our game.
"What is clear is that football is uniquely positioned to educate fans in combating this global issue. The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, in particular, can act as a catalyst to positively change the mindsets and behaviour across all involved in Russian Football over the next four years.
"The Fans Laws, that was recently passed into legislation, shows Russia's determination to eradicate the problem for good. The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia will be a festival of football where talented athletes from every corner of the globe will be celebrated."