The claim by Manchester City's Yaya Touré that he was racially abused by CSKA Moscow fans during Wednesday's Champions League game escalated into a full-blown diplomatic incident last night, as the accused club's general director accused "the British" of a calculated campaign to "smear" the Russian game.
Roman Babayev's comments came as post-match quotes questioning Touré's allegations – attributed to CSKA's Ivorian player, Seydou Doumbia, and posted on the club's website – were revealed by Doumbia to have been fabricated. The Independent understands that Doumbia's representatives believe the quotes were lifted directly from a Russian outlet without any attempt to establish their veracity, and they want them taken down from the CSKA site. They were still there last night, under a headline "CSKA against racism!"
Doumbia took to his Facebook site "to insist that I did not talk to any journalist about these facts so none of the quotes you read in the press came from me". The Moscow club did not respond to The Independent's calls.
Doumbia's comments severely undermine the CSKA case, and by charging the club with the "racist behaviour of their fans" on Thursday, Uefa has indicated there is a case to answer. Yet Babayev reflected a bullish Russian mood when he insisted that his club would use video footage and other "legal defence approaches" to defend their supporters. "The British do constantly try to find any reason to smear Russian football," he said. "It's totally possible that in this case we're running into this same intention. I read the main English publications. They're raising a real hysteria. They're writing that the fans wanted to almost lynch the dark-skinned players on the field... And most journalists probably didn't even watch the match."
But City are ready to include journalists' testimony, as well as that of their own players and club officials, to strengthen the written submission they have made to Uefa, who will consider the case on Wednesday. It was one of the BBC's radio journalists present in the Khimki Arena who heard the first alleged racist abuse directed at Touré during City's 2-1 win on Tuesday night. A number of national press journalists heard further alleged instances of abuse. Babayev claims that the Norwegian Uefa delegate, Tormod Larsen, did not hear any racism directed towards Touré and did not document any.
The alleged incident has raised new questions about the new Uefa procedures, introduced to counter racism, under which the referee, Ovidiu Hategan, should have stopped the match and asked for a public-address message to be played demanding the racist behaviour stop. Uefa president Michel Platini has ordered an immediate internal investigation into the failure to follow that new protocol.
City asked that questions on the subject to their manager Manuel Pellegrini be limited to avoid creating the impression of the club seeking to influence Uefa's proceedings. The Chilean stated only that he supported the player's decision to speak out and hoped Uefa would deal with the situation accordingly. Asked if he thought it was the manager's duty to speak out, as well as a player's, he replied: "I think it is a subject that I [have] finished [saying] what I think about. It is not [my] duty as a manager to say what we must do. Everyone knows what happened and we will see in the future what happens." Asked if he condemned racism in football, he said: "Of course."
The Russians appeared far less concerned about influencing the course of Uefa's decision-making, with the country's Uefa representative, Sergei Borisov, stating: "I can say honestly that I didn't see or hear any racist outbursts, no gestures, no yelling, nothing. This is a fairly serious incident if it actually happened. And if it is confirmed, I wouldn't want to be in CSKA's shoes, to be honest."
Touré, who has suggested that African players might boycott the 2018 Russia World Cup, managed to speak more meaningfully than Pellegrini, while retaining some circumspection. "I am not deaf," he told BBC Afrique. "We are all humans. It is not a nice feeling to go and play a football match, to bring joy to the people and to be called a monkey or to hear monkey noises. I don't look like a monkey. Other people must have seen it."
Of the CSKA player who had seemed to contradict him, he said: "Doumbia is a young brother. Someone I admire who I have known a long time – we come from the same country. I don't want to say things that will put him in trouble but you can see a little bit the manipulation around all this. It is so pathetic and so sad to see things [racism] like that. I am ashamed to still have to talk about this subject."