Though fans around the globe have been eagerly awaiting the opening of the 2018 FIFA World Cup on June 14, many have also been concerned about racist actions at matches played in Russia, since the nation was picked as host in 2010. An RT video dated December 18, 2010, features an interview with Russia's bid leader and Football Union Director-General Aleksey Sorokin saying that hooliganism would be “addressed.” Clearly, Russian officials were aware of their fans’ reputations – though Russia is not alone in having racist incidents, Russia’s image would be on the line.
The World Cup is unique in that players who compete for clubs all over the world return to their countries of citizenship to play other nations. This homecoming is quite exciting – this year, for example, all of Egypt (and me too!) is enchanted by Mohamed “Mo” Salah Ghaly, who plays for Liverpool, joining the Egyptian national team for their World Cup run after a 28-year absence from the tournament.
Football clubs help create and support national identities; events like the World Cup change those identity dynamics by having players "come home" to play for the national teams. Fans who employ racist and homophobic language do so in a way that also challenges the masculinity of the players they are abusing and reveals the fragility of their own sense of identity. As the concept of white national identity is perceived as threatened by migrants, so, perhaps, the inane need to "protect" football as a white person's sport increases.
Tactics to curb racist and homophobic abuse have not been wholly successful, as the Russian Football Union was fined the equivalent of $29,200.75 by FIFA for Russian fans yelling racist chants at French players during a friendly match at a Saint Petersburg stadium in March 2018.
However, for some players, there is far more concern than cheer, and warnings have been issued by the UK FCO and Coming Out. England's Danny Rose, who plays for Tottenham Hotspur and the English national team, told the media last week that he asked his family not to attend the World Cup out of concern that they would experience racist chants. Hopefully, this will not be Rose’s only trip to the World Cup on England’s behalf, but that isn’t the point – his family and fans should be able to cheer him on anywhere without fear of abuse.