The look on Vladimir Putin's face three years ago, during a Zurich press conference discussion of Russia's triumphant bid for the 2018 World Cup, foretold that nation's response to Yaya Touré's allegations that he was submitted to repeated racist abuse in Moscow. You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife when the Associated Press's Rob Harris, who ventures where other journalists fear to tread on such occasions, brought up the country's well-publicised racism problems. "Ethnic intolerance occurs in very many countries," Putin said. "This is a worldwide problem and Russia continues to fight it as any country in the world."
There was more of the same Russian see no evil, hear no evil, and though the default mode always seems to lead us to question Uefa's willingness to grasp this issue, the European governing body has grounds on which to defend itself here. Since it tightened up punishments and procedures governing racist abuse of players this season, full stadium bans have been imposed on three clubs – Dinamo Zagreb, Legia Warsaw and Budapest Honved – for racist behaviour by supporters, while five more –Lech Poznan, GKS Piast Gliwice, Lazio, Apoel and Rijeka have had partial stadium closures imposed.
The real question is how, after England went through every conceivable hurdle in its fight to stage the 2018 World Cup, Fifa saw fit to award the competition to a country where such Neanderthal attitudes prevail, without so much as an investigation into whether this might be a problem for African players who grace the tournament.
A Fifa spokeswoman pointed me to Article Three of Fifa's statutes, which commits to racial tolerance, and the Football Union of Russia's statement on the Touré case, which sourly did the same. But to the question of whether the World Cup host country had needed to demonstrate to inspectors that it had moved out of the dark ages, she said that such "hypotheses" could not be proven in advance. Wednesday night in Moscow seemed to do so. We await Uefa's judgment.