Message is to love your team, not hate opposition
Russian football’s antidiscrimination tsar Alexei Smertin has urged fans to be “friends with everyone” during the World Cup.
Former Chelsea star Smertin, who played in the Premier League between 2003 and 2009, said fans should focus their attention on supporting their own team, rather than attacking the opposition.
He was speaking at the launch event of a Diversity House, a safe space for minority and LGBT fans in central Moscow, just hours ahead of the kick-off of the tournament.
Ru s s i a n domestic football has been plagued by problems with racist and discriminatory chanting in the stands, while the Russian FA was recently fined for abuse directed at France star Paul Pogba during an international friendly.
Speaking at organised by the event the antid i s c r i m i n a t i o n Fa r e Network, he said: “We work together on the pitch as a team, stick together, play... with your friends. Friends with everyone.
“This is the principle which we need to implement to the stands, to the streets, to everyone who loves football.
“Because if you come to the stadium you need to support your team, not (be) against the opposite side.”
Smertin said the tournament gave Russia a chance to show itself to the world.
“To me, if you asked me 10 years ago about the World Cup when I was a professional player, I would have said we need first place, second place, third place, gold medal,” he said.
“Get through the group, win the first game, as many as we can.
“Now, I don’t think like this. Of course I have shaking legs before kickoff because I’m a football player.
“I think this is a huge opportunity, a possibility to showcase to everyone how we can host the World Cup.
“Because our country is quite historically multicultural, we respect everyone.
“It is a fantastic opportunity to invite everyone to show them our culture, our history, our warmth and this is the most important.”
Alexei Smertin urged fans to be peaceful