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Opinion: ‘Blackface’ at Sochi is a teachable moment

Story highlights

  • Three men wore Afro wigs and blackface at government backed parade in Sochi
  • Sochi will host the Confederations Cup in June
  • FIFA released a statement saying action at the parade was “inappropriate” and “discriminatory”

Lolade Adewuyi is a sports journalist and the former editor of Goal.com Nigeria. He is currently studying at the Russian International Olympic University.The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Sochi, home of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, has been my home since September 2016 when I moved from Lagos Nigeria, to study at the Russian International Olympic University.

Unlike the nearby state capital, Krasnodar, where there are several universities with African students, in Sochi Africans are a rarity. I am regularly stopped on the street by strangers for photos.

However, I was surprised to see three men in blackface at the Sochi Carnival on Saturday. They wore Cameroon national team jerseys, Afro wigs and carried bananas on a string.

They were part of a float to celebrate the impending FIFA Confederations Cup that will see Germany, Australia, and Mexico play at the Fisht Stadium.

Pictures of the Carnival and the men in blackface soon emerged on the city’s official website and Facebook page.

I decided to write a letter of protest to the city administration, asking the city to reprimand those responsible and to educate people about other cultures and sensitivities.

After the issue was picked up by the Associated Press, I was invited to a meeting with Anatoly Pakhomov, the Mayor of Sochi, two deputies and the local media on Wednesday afternoon.

Through an interpreter, the mayor and his team expressed their regret at the turn of events.

In a statement to the Associated Press the mayor apologized and described the incident as a one off that didn’t reflect the city. The pictures have now been removed from the city’s Facebook.
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Many of the people I have spoken to in Sochi; friends, and colleagues at my university and residence, didn’t see anything wrong I don’t think they’re bad people, they just don’t understand.

However, there have been a number of unsettling racist incidents against Africans in Russian football. Former Anzhi Makhachkala defender Christopher Samba, from Congo, was pelted with a banana peel in 2012 by a fan of Lokomotiv Moscow

All eyes will be on Russia this June for the Confederations Cup and it is time for the country to confront and speak out against all forms of racism.

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In my meeting with the Mayor of Sochi, I told him there needs to be better education about racism, racist symbols, and other cultures. It’s my sincere hope that this message permeates the country and brings about a much-needed change of attitude.

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