Alexey Smertin RussiaGetty Images

'Don't make opinions based on rumours' - Smertin 'convinced' World Cup will have no racism problems

Former Russia star Alexey Smertin is certain that the 2018 World Cup will pass without incident in Russia despite fears the finals could be clouded by racist incidents. 

Concerns that black players could be targeted were heightened in March when France stars Paul Pogba and Ousmane Dembele were allegedly targeted by monkey noises during a friendly in St. Petersburg

Yaya Toure is among those who have expressed their misgivings about possible discrimination, while Moscow club Spartak have also been censured in the last 12 months for similar offences aimed towards Liverpool youngster Bobby Adekanye.

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Smertin, however, believes that all visitors to Russia will be treated with "hospitality and respect" in June and July. 

"I'm sure this World Cup will be very high level, in all areas. And what makes me confident is the last Confederations Cup, where there was not a single incident of a discriminatory nature," the ex-Chelsea midfielder, who played 55 times for his country and who in 2009 was elected MP for the Altai region, explained to Goal

"In Russia, people know what hospitality and respect are. So come on, I invite you to come. You will see with your own eyes. Don't make opinions based on rumors.

"I sometimes meet old team-mates or players that I faced and those who have been to Russia speak to me very warmly and say only good things. 

"And, of course, that makes me happy. Of all those who were in Russia, no one will tell you that there is not a good football atmosphere here. That's why I'm very optimistic for the World Cup."

Smertin was appointed to the role of Discrimination Inspector for the World Cup in 2017, with the brief of cracking down on racist and other discriminatory incidents. 

He explained that a combination of surveillance and education has been utilised to try to erradicate the problem from Russia.

"There is certainly progress and that is visible. First, we introduced a surveillance system for the Russian championship, where there are the most high-risk matches," he added.

"We also introduced a special course on anti-discrimination at Moscow State University. Then, we made sure that there were also lessons against discrimination in schools. Then, in cooperation with Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), banners and advertisements were put in the stadiums. We also organized a multi-ethnic tournament at the Sochi Youth Festival. We also animate interfaith events.

"I am convinced that Russia will host this competition in the best conditions. Although it took place in four cities and not 11, the Confederations Cup was very revealing. I have no doubt that the World Cup will go perfectly well. That it is from the point of view material and the infrastructures: stadiums, hotels, airports. 

"Or from the non-material point of view: the memory that will remain, especially with the younger generation. I also remember my own experience when I was 11 years old. I watched the World Cup in Mexico and I saw Maradona and that's when I wanted to look like him in the game. I also saw Marius Tresor and Patrick Battiston, whom I then met with great pleasure in Bordeaux. 

"For me it was very important. So I can imagine how important it is for today's youth to see these great teams and their great players."