Moscow - CSKA denied Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure's allegation he was taunted by racist chants during a match in Moscow, saying they did not hear the shouts and the charge of racism was groundless.
The Ivorian international said he was the victim of racist abuse from the stands during his side's 2-1 Champions League victory at CSKA Moscow on Wednesday at the Khimki Arena on the outskirts of the Russian capital.
The claim could be embarrassing for President Vladimir Putin, who faces ethnic tensions in Russia as it prepares to host he 2014 Winter Olympics in February and the 2018 soccer World Cup.
While British newspapers condemned the chants, Russian media were mostly silent and CSKA suggested it did not happen.
“We are surprised and disappointed” by the racism allegations,” CSKA said on their website (www.pfc-cska.com) on Thursday.
“In a thorough study of the videotape, we found no racist insults directed at the guests by CSKA fans, and the delegate confirmed this at the end of the match,” said the statement, posted under a headline that read: “CSKA is against racism!”
It said there were several moments during the match when CSKA were under attack and its fans “tried to pressure the opposing side's players with boos and whistles, regardless of their race.”
“In any case, we regret the incident, although we consider accusations of racism to be groundless,” it said.
CSKA director general Roman Babayev and coach Leonid Slutsky said they had not heard racist taunts.
“Moreover, there were various remarks and noises sounded from the stands, aimed not only at black players,” Babayev was quoted as saying on Wednesday night by state-run news agency Itar-Tass.
He also suggested Russian fans were not racist, saying: “There are Africans at CSKA, too: Ahmed Musa, Seydou Doumbia. And they have never encountered such problems.”
The CSKA statement said the club had never been put on notice, let alone punished, for fan racism in European matches.
There have been at least six incidents of reported racism involving Russian clubs in the last five years.
Former Brazil defender Roberto Carlos was greeted with racist banners and had bananas thrown at him playing for Anzhi Makhachkala against Zenit St Petersburg and Krylia Sovetov Samara in March 2011.
In March 2012 Lokomotiv Moscow fans threw bananas at Anzhi defender Christopher Samba while last December a supporters group from Zenit demanded in a statement that the club should not sign any black players.
Toure, one of the most respected figures in the game and who learnt Russian while playing for Metalurg Donetsk in Ukraine for three years, reported the racist chants to Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan 10 minutes after halftime.
The CSKA statement came after Babayev had promised that CSKA would “closely examine” the issue but added: “I think he (Toure) jumped to conclusions.
“My understanding is that he spoke of an episode in the 85th minute when he and Edin Dzeko fell near the penalty area.
“It's possible that our fans tried to put pressure on the Manchester City players at that moment. But it is premature to say these efforts were racist.”
Slutsky said he did not hear any racist chants either, according to Itar-Tass.
“I was focused on the match,” he said.
The world players' union FIFPro criticised Uefa, saying their match officials had failed to follow the three-step protocol for dealing with racism in stadiums and which calls for matches to be abandoned in extreme cases.
“We're very disappointed that a clear agreed protocol which is designed to deal with these situations was not implemented,” said Bobby Barnes, head of FIFPro's Europe division.
“The player, having done what was asked of him to notify the referee, quite rightly expected that the referee would go speak with the safety officer,” said Barnes.
“The (Uefa) protocol agreed is that the safety officer should make a stadium announcement warning the fans that if the chants do not desist that the game will be stopped.”
Toure's anger comes at a time when ethnic tension is higher than usual in Moscow.
The stabbing death of an ethnic Russian man was widely blamed on a migrant from mostly Muslim Azerbaijan, touching off a nationalist riot on October 13 - the biggest outbreak of ethnic unrest in the capital in three years.
Putin underlined Kremlin concerns that ethnic or religious tensions could threaten Russia's unity in comments on Tuesday.
He accused foreign rivals of using radical Islam to weaken Russia and deflected any responsibility for ethnic and religious strife, putting the blame partly on local authorities.
In December 2010, several thousand youths rioted just outside the Kremlin, clashing with police and attacking passersby who they took for non-Russians after the killing of an ethnic Russian soccer fan was blamed on a man from the North Caucasus.
A spokeswoman for the Russian Sports Ministry declined to comment and referred questions to the minister, Vitaly Mutko, who could not immediately be reached.
The Russian Soccer Union also declined to comment. – Reuters