Monday 23 September 2019

'We will tell them to be brave' - UEFA President says referees must help stamp out racist abuse during games

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin

Nick Purewal

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin insists referees will be told to be "brave" and halt matches to stamp out racist abuse from "loud, aggressive and primitive" people.

Chelsea's Callum Hudson-Odoi is among the players who have recently been subjected to abuse, first during the Blues' Europa League tie at Dynamo Kiev and then on his England debut in Montenegro.

Several Premier League managers have since called on football authorities to stop matches if players are subjected to abuse - and UEFA says it will remind referees they should employ the three-step process: to stop, suspend or abandon matches.

Speaking ahead of addressing the Equal Game conference at Wembley, the European governing body's president Ceferin revealed he has had enough of discrimination.

"After a few incidents in the recent days and months, we will speak to the referees again, and tell them to be confident, not to be afraid to act," Ceferin said.

"They know about it, but they are people, and it's hard to decide whether to act or not. It's a big step. But we will speak to them, and tell them to be brave.

"Because the moment a match is stopped, or it's not played, I think that 90 per cent of normal people in the stadium would kick the asses of those idiots.

"If nothing happens, they say idiots.

"I haven't seen many matches with racist chanting, but wherever you see that, 90 per cent of the people are angry.

"They are the minority, but negative people are always the loudest.

"Positive people have a quiet life. Negative people are loud, aggressive.

"That's why sometimes you have a feeling that the negative people prevail, they are so loud, aggressive, primitive.

"It's very important to create pressure, because otherwise many things will not happen, or be solved.

"But from the other point of view sometimes it seems that the majority of people are racists in the Balkans for example, which is not true, people are good.

"This is a huge problem. Not just the Balkans, all eastern Europe; there's not much immigration there because everybody wanted to go to western Europe because of economic reasons, jobs, a better life.

"So it takes some time.

"But of course you see Italy, one of the biggest problems with racism, sexism and homophobia, you have England, where you have problems.

"It's a problem of intolerant people, not a problem of nations."

Ceferin believes UEFA already has sufficient sanctions in place to combat discrimination in the sport, but admitted it is time to wield those powers more widely.

The 51-year-old Slovenian former lawyer also revealed he harbours growing fears for far-right political movements gaining strength across Europe.

"We have different options for punishment, which are tough anyway, but sometimes we don't do that, so let's see," said Ceferin.

"I don't see any tougher sanction than forbidding the fans, matches played in front of empty stadiums, which has happened in Croatia a few times, and the money sanctions.

"If it's chronic, we could throw out a club team or a national team from a competition; everything is possible. But that is a last resort.

"We have to get rid of idiots, because football is the most popular thing in the world.

Everybody's watching it, children are watching it. How do you educate people against racism if the fans are shouting racist remarks?

"You have to bring the situation to a point where everyone condemns those people, that they throw them out themselves.

"We have to educate people and work with governments.

"It's a disaster that in 2019 we have to organise conferences to promote diversity.

"That you hear monkey chants, that you see bananas on the pitch, that you see photoshopped pictures of Anne Frank, that there are parts of the world where women are not even allowed to watch football, let alone play. It's crazy.

"So this is a cry for firm action, and for help from governments: because I've had enough.

"I don't want to enter politics, but it's a disaster to hear different politicians, extreme right-wing politicians who promote racism, promote sexism, promote homophobia.

"Again, it's 2019, it's not 100 years ago.

"I think we should be tough. Not just sanctions - come and speak and tell.

"I am quite concerned about Europe. It pops up everywhere, which hasn't happened since the 1930s. This is serious.

"It's a paradox, because from the other point of view football is the equal game, it's a social leveller through which everybody can rise, no matter colour, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation."

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