KEIR RADNEDGE in Warsaw: If Italy’s Mario Balotelli walks off the pitch at Euro 2012 here, as he has threatened, because of racist chanting then he will risk being shown the yellow card.
UEFA president Michel Platini, while trying to balance out perceptions of racist abuse from fans in Poland and Ukraine especially, insisted that any such decisions were a matter for the referee. Players who felt they were being targeted had the right to complain to the official but he retained full right to book any players leaving the pitch without permission.
“We’d certainly support the referee if he decided to stop the game,” said Platini, “but it’s not a player, Mr Balotelli, who’s in charge of refereeing. It’s the referee who takes these decisions. So, the referee has been given advice and he can stop the game if there are problems. We will stop the game if there are problems because I think racism is the worst of this.
“It’s not the UEFA president who is in charge of the game for 90 minutes. It’s the referee.”We will support the referee, of course – always.”
UEFA’s chief refereeing officer, Pierluigi Collina, insisted each of the qualified teams had been made aware of this process should any one of their players suffer racist abuse.
The families of England’s Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have chosen not to attend the tournament over fears for their safety, while former international Sol Campbell warned black fans who do travel that they risk “coming back in a coffin”. The latter comment had clearly irritated Platini who has pointed out repeatedly that racism is not a problem in sport only in eastern Europe.
He said: “I don’t think there’s any more racism in Poland and Ukraine than in France or anywhere else, or even in England. It’s not a footballing problem. It’s a problem for society. I’m not charge of of what goes on in football stadiums. It’s the states that need to take charge of this. There have been problems with violence in the 1970s in England.
“They made great strides actually to change the situation and we need to do work in the field of racism and we need to stop this from happening. How can you say outside the stadium, ‘He’s a racist – he can’t come in, he’s not a racist – he can come in’? You can’t do it.”
Piara Powar, the executive director of Football Against Racism in Europe, said he was confident that UEFA – despite sometimes appearing to take an equivocal attitude on racism – would one day expel a team from one of its competitions because of racist banners in the crowd.
Power added: “For us, the UEFA system is three strikes and you’re out,” he said. “Fine and then another fine and then a ban or forcing teams to play behind closed doors. If the system is in full effect, we could have a team kicked out of the competition for far-right banners.”
He also added, ominously: “There is no question we are worried about this tournament more than any other. I think Platini understands what is going on.”
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