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Smertin: Racism does not exist in Russia

Alexei Smertin has insisted that racism is not an issue in Russia as the country steps up preparations for the 2018 World Cup.

Russian football has been plagued by a number of racist incidents in recent years, yet Smertin - who serves as an ambassador for the 2018 World Cup - has claimed foreign media outlets are just trying to give Russia a bad reputation.

"There's no racism in Russia, because it does not exist," Smertin told the BBC's World Football programme.

"I think the media is making the wrong image of Russia."

The ex-Russia skipper downplayed the significance of recent racist incidents, stressing that fans are merely trying to upset the opposition and are not targeting specific individuals with their actions.

"Fan abuse is something against the opposition, not against a person.

"Racism in Russia is like fashion. It comes from abroad, from different countries.

"It was never, ever here before. Ten years ago, some fans may have given a banana to black guys - it was just for fun."