April 3 – UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has urged referees to be brave enough to halt matches in order to help stamp out an alarming resurgence of racism from fans. Ceferin opened a UEFA conference on discrimination on Tuesday, organised in conjunction with England’s Football Association, and believes it is time officials took the plunge and abided by UEFA protocol.
Ceferin said he was concerned that in this day age, such a conference even had to be organised.
“I am ashamed that here in Europe, not a weekend goes by without discriminatory acts taking place at a football stadium, amateur level or professional level,” he told delegates. “I am ashamed to see extremist movements use our sport as a vehicle for their messages of hatred and intolerance.”
Ceferin wants referees to remember the three-step process that can see games stopped, suspended or ultimately abandoned if racist abuse continues.
“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, tell them to be confident, not to be afraid to act. The moment a match is stopped, or it’s not played, I think that 90% of normal people in the stadium would kick the asses of those idiots. It’s 2019, it’s not 100 years ago.”
Ceferin was speaking a week after Montenegro fans racially abused at least three England players during a Euro 2020 qualifier.
He did not mention Montenegro, like his own Slovenia a Balkan country, by name but declared: “A stadium must not, and must never be, a forum in which people are allowed to express their sickening fascist nostalgia.”
Many observers have criticised UEFA for not imposing tougher sanctions than just heavy fines and stadium closures but Ceferin countered: “I don’t see any tougher sanction than … matches played in front of empty stadiums, which has happened in Croatia a few times, and 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.”
English FA chairman Greg Clarke, who spoke after Ceferin, said every complaint should be investigated, rather than just reported by match officials, assisted by video technology and, if necessary, lip-readers.
“Receiving a torrent of vile, racist abuse … when you are taking a throw-in or a corner is wholly unacceptable,” Clarke said. “It is worrying to see certain leaders and politicians playing down these incidents when they occur in their own countries.”
Momir Durdevac, general secretary of the Montenegro FA who attended the Equal Game conference at Wembley, said later through a translator that he personally had heard no racist abuse at the England match and blamed a “handful of idiots’”.
Whilst he apologised “to all those who have gained a very bad impression” of his country, Djurdjevac nevertheless conveniently insisted none of his own officials had heard the abuse.
Nor, he said, had the UEFA delegate even though football’s European governing body have subsequently opened an investigation.
“I’m not saying it didn’t occur,” Djurdjevac said. “They were a handful of idiots and because of those three or four idiots, Montenegro has been pilloried.”
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