Anti-racism group blames local officials for eviction
MOSCOW (AP) — A prominent group that campaigns against racism and anti-gay abuse in sports has accused St. Petersburg authorities of having it evicted from its premises in the city.
The Fare Network, which helps FIFA and UEFA investigate cases of discriminatory behavior by fans, had planned to operate "diversity houses" in Moscow and St. Petersburg during the World Cup with exhibitions and talks on human rights.
Fare executive director Piara Powar said Saturday that FIFA general secretary Fatma Samoura had "made high-level representations on our behalf but to no avail."
Fare said the lease on their part of a St. Petersburg building was abruptly canceled and other tenants were told not to sub-lease space to the group.
"It seems to be clear that the project in St. Petersburg has been subject to a political attack of the kind that shows how debates about human rights are curtailed by powerful conservative political forces in Russia," Powar said.
However, Powar said Fare has only "anecdotal evidence" of the city government's involvement.
"The way in which the Diversity House in St. Petersburg has been closed down is familiar to organizations in St. Petersburg, they recognize it as the method through which the city authorities shut down activities which do not conform to their political outlook," he said. "If the local authorities apply the same pressure, we are quite prepared with our local partners to play cat-and-mouse with them until they see the value of what we are trying to do."
Fare's property was locked inside the premises, which were sub-let from a theater, but later returned, the organization said.
Fare has previously worked with a Russian group, the SOVA Center, to measure the size of Russian soccer's problems with racism, sexism and anti-gay abuse. The most recent report published last month noted a general decline in incidents, but a rise in racist abuse of players, something which was mirrored in FIFA and UEFA sanctions against Russian teams.
FIFA said it "regrets that the Fare Network had to relocate the diversity house in St. Petersburg."
The governing body added that it had been "in close contact with Fare" and "intervened with the authorities of St. Petersburg in an attempt to help finding a solution" but didn't comment on Fare's accusations against the city.
The local St. Petersburg government did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Fare plans to open its event at new premises elsewhere in St. Petersburg.
St. Petersburg has been a hub for conservative policy in Russia in recent years. A politician from the city, Vitaly Milonov, was crucial to first the local, then nationwide, rollout of a law banning so-called "propaganda" of homosexuality.
There is also a strong far-right element to the St. Petersburg soccer scene, with an influential fan group at the Zenit St. Petersburg club writing a manifesto in 2012 which called on the team not to sign black or gay players.