Russian football’s anti-discrimination tsar Alexei Smertin has urged fans to be “friends with everyone” during the World Cup.
Former Chelsea star Smertin, who played in the Premier League between 2003 and 2009, said fans should focus their attention on supporting their own team, rather than attacking the opposition.
He was speaking at the launch event of a Diversity House, a safe space for minority and LGBT fans in central Moscow, just hours ahead of the kick-off of the tournament.
Russian domestic football has been plagued by problems with racist and discriminatory chanting in the stands, while the Russian FA was recently fined for abuse directed at France star Paul Pogba during an international friendly.
Speaking at the event organised by the anti-discrimination Fare Network, he said: “We work together on the pitch as a team, stick together, play… with your friends. Friends with everyone.
“This is the principle which we need to implement to the stands, to the streets, to everyone who loves football.
“Because if you come to the stadium you need to support your team, not (be) against the opposite side.”
Smertin said the tournament gave Russia a chance to show itself to the world.
“To me, if you asked me 10 years ago about the World Cup when I was a professional player, I would have said we need first place, second place, third place, gold medal,” he said.
“Get through the group, win the first game, as many as we can.
“Now, I don’t think like this. Of course I have shaking legs before kick-off because I’m a football player.
“I think this is a huge opportunity, a possibility to showcase to everyone how we can host the World Cup.
“Because our country is quite historically multi-cultural, we respect everyone.
“It is a fantastic opportunity to invite everyone to show them our culture, our history, our warmth and this is the most important.”
Meanwhile, in a separate speech to the event, Federico Addiechi, head of sustainability and diversity for world football’s governing body Fifa, said there was still “a lot of work to be done” to ensure diversity in the game.
He said: “This World Cup in Russia is a milestone in the fight against discrimination and in the fight for diversity.
“We have, together with Fare, set up comprehensive mechanisms in order to fight discrimination at the Fifa World Cup during the event.
“There is a lot of work to be done by many, including Fifa, to ensure the game of football is as diverse as it should be.”