KEIR RADNEDGE in ZURICH: FIFA president Sepp Blatter straightened out his comments on last week’s Milan racist protest incident at the world federation’s annual gala in the KongressHaus in Zurich tonight.

The presentation to the World Player of the Year was schedulEd to be the climax to the annual world football party but Blatter broke with protocol after  he set proceedings under way by welcoming city political leaders, sponsors, award-winners and FIFA exco members.

Blatter said: “Football has the ability to bring people together with the passion they share across all borders. connecting people. That’s not an advertising slogan, in football it is reality.

“[But] if a player walks off the pitch because he has been racially abused, just as the AC Milan player Kevin-Prince Boateng recently did, it is a strong and courageous signal, a way of saying: This has gone this far but it goes no  further.

“That is praiseworthy but it cannot be the solution in the long term. We have to find other sustainable solutions to tackle the problem of racism and discrimination at its roots. Otherwise such stands will be made in isolation and lost in the heat of general polemic.

“Football must not separate people bring them together.”

Sitting in the audience, listening to Blatter, was Michel Platini president of the European federation UEFA.

His organisation’s limp-wristed response down the years to repeated outburst of racist behaviour by fans – and occasionally players and coaches –  has been singled out for particular criticism by anti-discrimination campaigners.

Also in the audience was Gerard Depardieu, the French film star who has taken Russian citizenship to evade the tax changes to which his former fellow countrymen are subject. It was not assumed he was there representing Russia 2018.

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