- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 22, 2014

MOSCOW (AP) - Russia has no particular problem with racism in football as it prepares to host the 2018 World Cup- despite a series of recent incidents, Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said Wednesday.

Russian champion CSKA Moscow has been forced to play all of its Champions League home group games this season behind closed doors as punishment for repeated racist incidents involving its fans, and there have been further cases in the Russian league.

“I don’t see that we should especially stand out in this. A lot of dark-skinned players, from Africa, Asia, play in Russia and I don’t really see any problems,” Mutko said.

Asked why some black players had expressed fear of Russian crowds, he added: “I don’t know what there is to be frightened of here. I can say that it’s a problem on a global scale.”

Last year, Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure said black players could boycott the World Cup if racism at matches was not reduced. He spoke after being abused with monkey chants by CSKA fans in a Champions League game.

However, racism is “not a Russian problem,” Mutko said. “It crops up at any stadium in the world, as you well know . It turns up everywhere, because unfortunately the world’s like that today.” Russia is engaged in a “tough battle” against racism, he added.

Mutko, who is also a member of the FIFA executive committee, said that questions had been asked before Russia hosted February’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, but that: “No one’s freedom or civil rights were infringed in any way. I guarantee you the same at the World Cup.”

This season, the Russian Football Union has punished clubs after fans racially abused Dynamo Moscow’s Congolese defender Christopher Samba and Zenit St. Petersburg’s Brazilian striker Hulk.

In the former case, Samba was banned for two games for showing an “unpleasant gesture” to fans who had abused him.

Speaking as a FIFA delegation concluded its inspection tour of Russia’s World Cup arenas, Mutko also explained that two of the planned stadiums had had their capacity cut to 35,000 for financial and legacy reasons.

He said the planned venue in Kaliningrad would be cut back from a planned 45,000-seat stadium to a possible 25,000-seat arena with 10,000 extra temporary seats for the World Cup, and the size of the Yekaterinburg venue would also be cut to 35,000.

“These two cities don’t have that kind of demand or legacy for the future of such big stadiums,” he said.

The Kaliningrad stadium should also be moved from its planned site on an island, where a new stadium would require “huge investments,” and instead regional government should look to remodel an existing stadium in the city, he added.

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