By Andrew Warshaw
December 4 – UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has re-iterated his long-held view that more needs to be done to combat racism in European football following an unwelcome resurgence of discrimination across the Continent, from Bulgaria to Italy.
Italian striker Mario Balotelli threatened to walk off the field after receiving alleged abuse from Hellas Verona fans last month while Shakhtar Donetsk forward Taison was shown a red card simply for reacting to racist jeers.
Ceferin says he was not fully aware of the scale of the problem when he took charge of UEFA three years ago. “The situation in Europe is more and more tense. You can feel it.”
UEFA recently punished Bulgaria by mandating them to play their next competitive game behind closed doors with a further game suspended for two years following distasteful scenes of racism by their fans against English black players.
The sanction was criticised as too lenient by the anti-discrimination network Football Against Racism in Europe (Fare) while Kick It Out said UEFA had “missed an opportunity” to send the right message.
Ceferin concedes that the issue can’t go on without stronger action but defends UEFA’s position.
“I am not so naive to think we’ve done all we can and now everything is finished. We haven’t,” he told the Daily Mirror newspaper. “We are trying and we care. We are ready to listen to criticism. Every week we hear about some shit happening around Europe. We are not just some guys in Nyon sitting eating fancy food and driving Ferraris.”
Ceferin, who was ushered into power on a wave of popular support among UEFA’s smaller nations, has long insisted that racism is not just the responsibility of football’s governing bodies.
“I went recently to the European Union. We speak with governments. We are trying to do something,” he said. “You see, it takes time. It takes a lot of effort, a lot of discussion.”
He couldn’t resist taking a dig at British Prime minister Boris Johnson, who himself had criticised UEFA over the penalty handed to Bulgaria.
“When a politician who calls women with burqas post boxes or mail boxes then says publicly that he condemns you UEFA – do you reply to that?” Ceferin said. “Do you believe it’s honest? Come on.”
Ceferin says those who criticise UEFA should also look closer to home.
“When you see the incidents in English football…do you think the Premier League does more than UEFA? Did they kick out any club? What about Italy? UEFA is really trying to do something.
“I know we have to do more. But tell me which club was thrown out of the Premier League. And you have incidents almost every week. Also in Italy. The media attention is their oxygen.”
Contact the writer of this story at firstname.lastname@example.org