French sports minister blasts racist Russian chants

Paris (AFP) - France's sports minister has condemned the "inadmissible" monkey chants aimed at French players Paul Pogba and Ousmane Dembele during an international friendly against World Cup hosts Russia in Saint Petersburg.

Laura Flessel hit out at the chants on her Twitter account on Wednesday, while world football governing body FIFA said it would investigate the incident which has raised new fears of racism in Russia less than three months before the World Cup kicks off.

"Racism has no place on the football pitch," said Flessel, a former two-time Olympic champion in fencing.

"We have to take action together on a European and international level to bring an end to this inadmissible behaviour."

During the second half of France's 3-1 victory over Russia on Tuesday, an AFP photographer heard monkey chants aimed at Barcelona winger Dembele, while internet users claimed to have heard Manchester United midfielder Pogba targeted.

A spokesperson for FIFA said t was gathering "the possible evidence relating to the discriminatory incidents reported by the media" from the match.

However, FIFA said it did not want "to comment before evaluating the available information".

FIFA is waiting for a report from the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) anti-discriminatory body, which was present at the stadium.

Neither the players nor the French team management, approached by AFP, commented on the allegations, while Russian authorities said on Wednesday they hadn't heard anything but were prepared to look into it.

"If this information is confirmed, then of course we will study both the video replay and everything else that happened around the match," the Russian Football Union's security committee head Vladimir Markin was quoted as saying by Russian newspaper Sport Express.

"And after that, we will give our assessment."

But his RFU security council colleague Alexei Tolkachyov stressed they had heard nothing.

"If necessary, we are ready to study this episode. But I will repeat -? we did not record anything of the kind," Tolkachyov was quoted as saying.

Russia hosts the World Cup from June 14 to July 15.

The country has also come under scrutiny after the International Olympic Committee banned Russia from last month's Winter Games in South Korea over a state-sponsored doping programme that reached its zenith at the Sochi Olympics four years ago.

Seven World Cup matches will be held in Saint Petersburg's 68,000-capacity stadium, including a semi-final.

Russian football has long been blighted by the scourge of racist chanting from the terraces and FIFA says it is closely monitoring the situation in the country.

FARE reported 89 racist and far-right incidents at Russian games in the 2016/17 season.

Most recently, Spartak Moscow were hit with a suspended stadium ban by the Russian Football Union over almost a minute of racist chanting directed at Lokomotiv Moscow's Brazilian goalkeeper Guilherme Marinato earlier this month.