France’s Paul Pogba, right, duels for the ball with Russia’s Fyodor Smolov during the international friendly soccer match between Russia and France at the Saint Petersburg stadium in St.Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, March 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

France’s Paul Pogba, right, duels for the ball with Russia’s Fyodor Smolov during the international friendly soccer match between Russia and France at the Saint Petersburg stadium in St.Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, March 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

FIFA to probe Russian racism against France players

FIFA has opened an investigation after France soccer team players were racially abused by fans in Russia

FIFA has opened an investigation after France national soccer team players were racially abused by fans in Russia, less than three months before the country hosts the World Cup.

Monkey chants could be heard from the crowd in St. Petersburg on Tuesday when black French players touched the ball in a friendly against Russia. The abuse was also audible on a TV broadcast after Paul Pogba scored France’s second goal in a 3-1 win.

FIFA said Wednesday in a statement it was collecting evidence and would contact the anti-discrimination Fare Network, which helps world soccer’s governing body investigate racism cases.

“FIFA is collecting the different match reports and potential evidence in regards to the discriminatory incident reported in the media,” FIFA said in a statement. “Until we have evaluated all information available, we cannot comment further.”

French Sports Minister Laura Flessel also called for action.

“Racism has no place on the soccer field,” Flessel wrote on Twitter alongside a picture of the French team. “We should act together at a European and international level in order to stop this intolerable behaviour.”

Flessel didn’t comment directly on the chants at Tuesday’s game.

Fare said the incidents in St. Petersburg highlight shortcomings in how Russia has prepared for the World Cup.

“If photographers heard it pitch-side, then there must have been stewards and other officials who also heard it,” Fare Network executive director Piara Powar said. “If, toward the end of March, these guys don’t know what to do, and they’re not initiating procedures and protocols that exist, then that doesn’t bode very well for the World Cup.

Related: Toronto mayor wants city to co-host 2026 FIFA World Cup

“So close to the World Cup, questions are being asked as to why it wasn’t dealt with as it occurred during play.”

It’s the third racism case this season at St. Petersburg Stadium, which will host a World Cup semifinal match. Zenit St. Petersburg has twice faced UEFA charges for racism by its fans in Europa League games.

Zenit fans flew a banner praising convicted war criminal Ratko Mladic when playing a Macedonian club in November and are accused of using a racially charged term to mock an injured black player in a game against Leipzig. The second case is due to be heard by UEFA on May 31, two weeks before the World Cup begins.

Related: Canadian women move to No. 4 in FIFA world rankings

___

Ellingworth reported from Moscow. AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report.

Dmitri Lovetsky And James Ellingworth, The Associated Press

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