Fifa's desire to share the game with the whole world is admirable, but what is missing is recognition that the whole world is not at the same stage of cultural development
Manchester City's Yaya Touré, having been the object of monkey chants in Moscow and sufficiently upset by it to complain to the referee, quite rightly feels black players should consider boycotting the 2018 World Cup in Russia if there is no guarantee of such primitive behaviour being eradicated.
José Mourinho, on the other hand, feels black players have contributed a great deal to football and should not miss out on its biggest party, and neither should the watching millions in developing countries feel in any way excluded because of the actions of a small number of small-minded people.
Both positions are understandable, but it should be Fifa doing the worrying about a boycott. And not just a boycott by black players or countries either. You would think just about any football nation in the world would be incensed by a governing body that through an insanely opaque bidding and voting process has handed the two World Cups after next summer's in Brazil to two of the countries that least deserve them. Qatar is not just a ridiculous choice for 2022 on account of its tiny size, barely discernible football culture and soaring summer temperatures that somehow managed to escape the notice of Fifa's various inspection committees until it was too late. It also happens to be one of the most homophobic of nations.
Homosexuality is not only illegal, Qatar would actually like it to be punishable by execution. Naturally, this did not strike the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, as important. "They [gay fans attending the tournament] should refrain from any sexual activities," the most prominent man in the world's most visible sport said three years ago when the matter was brought to his attention.
Monkey-chanting has been brought to his attention several times before. It is not an isolated or uncommon occurrence when teams from England visit countries to the east of Europe where black faces are not part of everyday life, and though Fifa and Uefa have been criticised for their apparent timidity in issuing token fines to clubs or countries found responsible, it is not always easy to be draconian when the issue is clearly a cultural one and in most cases only a minority of fans are involved.
Yet Fifa should have at least been aware of the dangers of taking a World Cup to such destinations. In one sense their desire to share the game with the whole world is admirable, and Russia does have a strong football tradition and a solid playing case for staging a World Cup, but what is missing is recognition that the whole world is not at the same stage of cultural development. If a few black faces in an English side attract attention, it is reasonable to assume that Russia may not be quite ready to make teams from Africa feel welcome.
While that may be an unfair extrapolation – and the possibility that exposure to black teams would have educational value and help Russia catch up with the rest of the world should also be considered – the fact is that Touré has expressed concern on behalf of black players and Fifa need to be seen to be doing something about it.
Like telling Russia that it is not too late to stage the World Cup somewhere else if civilised standards of spectator behaviour cannot be arranged. Somewhere like Spain, perhaps, where the monkey-chanting aimed at Shaun Wright-Phillips in an England friendly in Madrid nine years ago was far, far worse than what happened in Moscow. At the Santiago Bernabéu, almost everyone in the crowd seemed to be at it, respectably dressed men, women and children all making a terrible din. At least CSKA Moscow can argue, and probably will, that the chants aimed at Touré came from a small pocket of "ultra" type fans behind one goal. If the knowledge that some of the same fans also went shirtless on a freezing cold night does not exonerate the rest of their behaviour, it does give an inkling of their mentality.
And who are England, in any case, to preach to others? It is less than a fortnight since the manager of the national side was having to explain that he never intended to refer to Andros Townsend as a monkey, or at least that when he did so it was not a term that carried any racial connotations. When England played Turkey at Sunderland in 2003 the Stadium of Light reverberated to the charming "I'd rather be a Paki than a Turk", and just last year England lost the services of a captain and ultimately their manager through the events that followed a crude racial slur being made in a Premier League game at Loftus Road.
Few countries can claim to be perfect in this regard, though Fifa do need to be more careful over the way they distribute World Cups. The governing body do not have an awful lot else to do, apart from counting the money that rolls in once the tax rules of the host nation have been temporarily suspended, and to make two such glaring mistakes in a row is hard to forgive. Perhaps Russia is not yet a mistake, not in the Qatar category anyway, though there were already sufficient concerns over security, cost and distance without racism raising its head.
One hopes there will be no boycott, because Mourinho is right to feel a World Cup has to be inclusive, but it is now up to Fifa to ensure that Russia and Africa are sent the right message. Otherwise it is bound to occur to leading football nations fairly soon that World Cups ought not to be quite this troublesome.