Hundreds of people paraded the streets of Sochi, Russia, this weekend, as the city geared up to host one of Cameroon’s soccer matches at the upcoming Confederations Cup tournament.
A handful of paraders, however, thought it fitting to dress up in blackface, don Afro wigs and carry bananas in celebration of the African nation’s match-up.
A photo on the Sochi government’s official website showed two people in blackface at the government-backed “Carnaval Sochi Fest” parade Saturday, which was led by city mayor Anatoly Pakhomov, according to the Associated Press. One woman was wearing an Afro-style wig and a string of bananas, while a man not far from her wore a Cameroon soccer jersey and feathered head dress while beating on a drum.
The photo was later removed.
“[Russians] don’t understand that it’s an issue to have blackface and then have bananas along with it, you know?” Lolade Adewuyi, a Nigerian journalist studying in Russia who’d witnessed the parade, told the Associated Press. “They don’t see it.”
Adewuyi said the people in blackface were seemingly part of a section celebrating the June 17-July 2 Confederations Cup, a key tournament event held ahead of next year’s World Cup. Cameroon is set to play Germany in the southern Russian city on June 25.
The journalist suggested the offensive costumes likely weren’t the result of racism or malice, but rather due to a lack of understanding of attitudes toward race among local Russians. In addition to the blackface, Adewuyi said he saw parade participants dressed in sombreros and fake mustaches to symbolize Mexico, which is slated to play in Sochi next month.
The fact that some factions of Russian society remain ignorant of offensive racial stereotypes might come as a surprise to FIFA, which created a task force in 2013 to help combat racism and discrimination in world soccer, The Washington Post reported. FIFA disbanded the task force last year, however, after group members declared their work was complete.
The futbol/soccer association has since denounced the blackface costumes as “inappropriate.”
“Blackening of faces is considered discriminatory and will not be tolerated inside the stadiums,” FIFA said in a statement.