CSKA Moscow have dismissed reports of racist chanting in their Europa League quarter-final second leg against English Premier League team Arsenal on Thursday as “embarrassing.”
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A Reuters photographer situated at pitch level alleged that the chants could be heard when Gunners players Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi neared a particular section of the stands as the ball went out of play.
The photographer claimed that the chants could be heard again when Welbeck scored a 75th-minute goal, despite footage recorded from the 10th row in the stand closest to the Arsenal player’s celebration picking up no apparent chants.
The story was reported by Western newspaper outlets, including the Daily Mirror. However, the Russian club was quick to respond, releasing a statement on Saturday expressing its bewilderment at the allegations.
"The CSKA management, players and coaches and also the thousands of fans of the club are bewildered at the announcements of the photographer from the news agency Reuters about the allegation made at the Europa League match with Arsenal of racist chants towards black players of Arsenal," the statement read.
"A match that was remembered for its great football, passed in great circumstances. The support from the stands was simply incredible. UEFA representatives clearly, as the officials from London, were left satisfied by the excellent organization of the match, [and] the high safety measures.
"Moreover, the Arsenal fans expressed their great thanks to the hosts for a warm welcome and gifts, which were given out before the game. Because of this, we consider similar such information as simple provocation, which should be embarrassing to anyone who considers themselves a professional journalist."
Reuters also allege a third player, whom they said they were "unable to identify," was subjected to chants as he came off the bench and jogged onto the pitch at the final whistle to warm down.
The club's claims were backed up by 'CSKA Fans Against Racism', an organization which aims to tackle racism, and which was present at the game. The group vehemently denied the allegations.
"There were at least 11 people from our initiative at the game at different sectors including the ultras one. We are the first to report any racist incident in Russia but we can assure you this news is a total lie by Daily Mirror," the group wrote on Twitter.
“Furthermore, we spoke to several English journalists after the game and no one heard anything abusive. Who is this ‘Reuters photographer’? It seems that ‘reporters’ at Daily Mirror know that nobody trusts them so they try to hide behind more respectful Reuters. Disgusting clowns.
“This is an ugly attempt of those ‘journalists’ who came to Moscow for sensational reports of fights and blood to take revenge from all of us, English and Russian fans, for peaceful and mutually respectful atmosphere at the game. They simple couldn't stand it."
UEFA has announced that it will not open an investigation into the matter. Reuters reported Welbeck and Iwobi did not reply to direct messages sent to their verified Instagram accounts on the matter.
The news organization also reported that the photographer, who was apparently located pitchside, was sticking by his story, despite an individual at Arsenal indicating that the club had not made a complaint about racial abuse on Saturday.
A stoppage time Aaron Ramsey goal earned Arsenal a 2-2 draw on the night and 6-3 win on aggregate, which saw them progress to the semi-final stage, where they were drawn against Atletico Madrid.
The 100 or so Arsenal fans who did travel from the UK to Moscow for the match were greeted at the away end with traditional Russian hats as part of the 'Gentlefan' initiative.
The Russian Football Union (RFU) did say Monday it would assist a FIFA investigation into an alleged incident of racist abuse during the friendly game between Russia and France on March 27 in St. Petersburg directed towards Ousmane Dembélé and Paul Pogba.
"FIFA is collecting the different match reports and potential evidence in regards to the discriminatory incident reported in the media, including the one from the Fare observer who was present at the game," FIFA said in a statement.
"FIFA has notified the Russian Football Union that it will investigate alleged racist chants heard during the friendly game between the national squads of Russia and France on March 27 in St. Petersburg," Russia anti-racism chief Alexey Smertin said, TASS reported.
"The RFU, which has already launched an internal investigation, is ready to be actively involved in FIFA's inquiry investigation. The Union has made a request to the Ministry of Internal Affairs to identify several fans who might be linked to the incident. If their guilt is proven they will not be allowed to attend World Cup matches as well as Russian championship games."
As the World Cup host nation, Russia has dedicated extra attention to cracking down on any incidents of racism before the opening game of the tournament on June 14 between Russia and Saudi Arabia.