By Andrew Warshaw
April 15 – One of the most contentious recent incidents of racist abuse in European football has been resolved with UEFA meting out a 10-match ban to Slavia Prague’s Czech international defender Ondřej Kúdela.
Kúdela was initially banned for a single game as UEFA launched a formal investigation into his conduct after Scottish champions Rangers protested that their midfielder Glen Kamara, who is black, was racially abused by Kúdela during the Europa League last-16 fixture between the two sides.
Kúdela approached Kamara during a stoppage in play, covered his mouth with both hands and said something into Kamara’s right ear. The Rangers player reacted by pointing at Kúdela, and both were then separated.
UEFA said its ban would apply to “club and representative team competition matches,” including the rest of Slavia’s Europa League campaign and the Czech Republic’s games at this summer’s European Championship.
Kúdela, 34, is a regular starter for the Czechs, who begin their Euro 2020 programme against Scotland in Glasgow, ironically the same city where Kúdela was found to have racially abused Kamara during a stormy fixture that included a melee on the pitch and clashes in the tunnel afterwards.
Kúdela’s ban will include the one-match provisional suspension served by the player during Slavia’s Europa League quarter-final first leg against Arsenal earlier this month.
Kúdela admitted he swore at a Rangers player after being fouled but denied the allegation of racism and his club stood by him, lodging an official complaint with the Scottish police, via the Czech Embassy in London, alleging a “physical assault” by Kamara.
Kúdela, via his lawyers, that he was “startled” by the ruling, claiming the investigators did not gather any convincing evidence. But Slavia accepted the verdict, Jaroslav Tvrdík, the club’s chief executive, saying: “I am taking positive steps to prevent such a situation from happening in our club ever again.”
Kamara’s lawyer Aamer Anwar tweeted that the 10-match ban on Kúdela was the “barest minimum penalty, making a mockery of UEFA’s claims on taking racism seriously”.
But UEFA also took the view that Kamara, a Finnish international, broke the rules and banned him for three European club competition games next season for assaulting Kúdela after the game.
Unlike Kúdela, however, Kamara’s sanction will not stop him from playing for Finland at Euro 2020.
Europe’s anti-discrimination body Fare welcomed the sanction against Kúdela as “a marker for others to follow.”
“Since September 2020 we have seen at least six high-profile cases of racism or homophobia involving players abusing other players on the field of play worldwide,” Fare said in a statement. “Most cases have led to no action by national football associations.”
“We hope this decision can give Glen Kamara and all who campaign against discrimination and equality in football a sense of justice.”
Former Netherlands midfielder Clarence Seedorf said that players should be immediately sanctioned if they cover their mouth while talking to an opponent or the referee, as Kúdela did.
Seedorf, a four-time Champions League winner, told a Council of Europe meeting on hate speech: “There is a lot of talk but not enough being done. The need is obvious and very urgent.”
“From a players’ perspective, I have seen stuff with players speaking and covering their mouth during matches. When we’re talking about sport it has to be completely transparent, so why would I cover my mouth if I need to talk with my adversary?”
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