QPR striker Djibril Cisse has dismissed concerns about racism in England, ahead of the game against Chelsea at Loftus Road. The Premier League fixture will mark the Blues' first return to the ground where veteran centre-back John Terry was accused of racially abusing Hoops' defender Anton Ferdinand.
"Do not get me wrong, the rivalry between QPR and Chelsea is very strong. They are our local rivals. It's a derby and it's a big game for us - bigger than most. It is without doubt one of the most important games of the season, for players and fans. But all the clubs I have played for have had big local derbies and, when it comes to bad behaviour on and off the pitch, this is not the worst," the 31-year-old French international said in The Sun.
The Terry-Ferdinand incident, which erupted in October last year during what seemed a routine league game, led to the former England captain facing criminal charges (he was cleared of those earlier this year) and an inquiry by the FA (the hearing is set for 24 September). The affair also forced a number of other players into the mix, including Terry's club and country team mate Ashley Cole (who testified on the latter's behalf as a character witness). Worse, it threatened to disrupt the entire English national team on the eve of the summer's 2012 European Championships.
New coach Roy Hodgson seemed to have to choose between Terry and Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand (Anton Ferdinand's elder brother) and although the former West Brom boss insisted his decision (he chose Terry) had nothing do with the racism row, a cloud still hung over the camp. In addition, Cole's involvement in the matter reportedly infuriated Rio Ferdinand, who was caught up in his own racism scandal after tweeting remarks about the former Gunner with the phrase "choc ice" in them. The 33-year-old centre back was fined £45,000 for his comments; read the FA's full verdict here.
However, Cisse, who has also played for Liverpool, appears unmoved by the growing Chelsea-QPR rivalry. He points out that while there is racism in the country, it is nothing like that found on the continent.
"The derbies between Panathinaikos and Olympiakos were just so intense. In the week building up to the game the fans would come to our training ground, hold meetings with players and tell us what the game meant to them and why we had to win. The pressure on the players was huge and the atmosphere was incredible. That derby had much more tension," he explained on Goal.com. Cisse played for Panathinaikos between 2009 and 2011.
The Frenchman does have a point. The intensity of rivalries in Eastern Europe, for example, border on what FIFPro, the worldwide representative organisation for professional players, has described as "terrifying". The organisation recently published its own research into such issues, in the FIFPro Black Book: Eastern Europe. Consider this - they claim 11.7 percent of the players "were victims of violence" and 33 percent of those incidents were initiated by the club.
However, does this mean racism does not exist in England or that it should be viewed as a stereotypical construct? It is easy to remember similar claims being levelled against the hosts of the summer's European Championships - Poland and Ukraine - at this point. It is also easy to remember the Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra incident. Cisse is quick to admit that racism is rampant and has no place in today's world but he insists he has yet to face true racism in England.
"But all the clubs I have played for have had big local derbies and, when it comes to bad behaviour on and off the pitch, this is not the worst. It [racism] is still going on in football, but in other countries. In England I have never experienced it. People here realise it's something that should not happen, inside or outside football, and that's a good thing," the striker concluded.
QPR host Chelsea in a 3pm BST kickoff. Read our IBTimes UK preview for information on where to watch the game live.