KEIR RADNEDGE in ZURICH: Theo Zwanziger, in an enlightening intervention, has lifted the lid on UEFA’s limp-wristed reaction to outbursts of racist behaviour by fans and, on occasion, players and coaches.
Zwanziger’s words became ever more relevant after Sepp Blatter, at Monday night’s FIFA Gala, wriggled to clarify his own comments in the wake of the Boateng incident.
Last Thursday afternoon, in the Italian town of Busto Arsizio, Ghana midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng had led a 26th-minute walk-off by Milan players in protest at racist abuse from hooligan fans. The players had warned the referee in vain earlier about their concerns.
The match was abandoned and later Boateng insisted the status of the match was irrelevant: he would repeat his protest “even if we were playing Real Madrid in the Champions League.”
Boateng’s stance was supported by Silvio Berlusconi and the Milan owner’s director/daughter Barbara.
However both FIFA president Blatter and the black former Milan midfielder Clarence Seedorf expressed misgivings over the walkout strategy, doubts which led to criticism of Blatter – though not of Seedorf –by anti-discrimination campaigners.
Addressing the FIFA Gala, Blatter championed football’s over-arching capacity to cut across borders of politics, religion and race.
He 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.
“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 and a FIFA vice-president.
His organisation’s minimalistic response down the years to repeated outbursts of racist behaviour by fans – and occasionally players and coaches – has been a subject for particular opprobrium.
Only after criticism by campaigners, by the media and even Blatter himself did UEFA decide to appeal against the modest sanctions imposed by its own disciplinary commission after stormy events at an under-21 tie between Serbia and England in Krusevac last October.
Significant to the debate were comments made recently by Zwanziger, former German federation president who is also a member of the FIFA executive committee.
The fine levied on the Serb federation, albeit in association with a one-game closed-doors order, had been significantly less than the punishment imposed on Denmark striker Nicklas Bendtner for a brief (and briefs) incident of pirate advertising at Euro 2012.
Zwanziger, in his autobiography Die Zwanziger Jahre [The Twenties], noted with concern that his opposite numbers from southern Europe appeared to have no perception or understanding of racism as a moral or cultural scourge, hence they saw no reason for punitive action.
One player whose restraint under pressure has been exemplary is Messi who took star billing at the climax to the FIFA Gala on being hailed for the fourth successive year as World Player of the Year ahead of Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo and his Barcelona team-mate, Andres Iniesta.
Barcelona’s little magician had long since been runaway odds-on favourite to retain his crown thanks to the super-democratic voting system.
This enfranchises the world’s national team managers and captains and the favourite reporters of French magazine France Football whose own award was swallowed up by FIFA in 2010.
World Player of the Year: Lionel Messi (Barcelona and Argentina)
Women’s Player of the Year: Abi Wambach (US)
Coach of the Year: Vicente Del Bosque (Spain)
Women’s Coach of the Year: Pia Sundhage
Fair play: Uzbekistan federation
Presidential: Franz Beckenbauer (Germany)
‘Puskas’ Goal of the Year: Miroslav Stoch (Fenerbahce)
FIFpro World XI: Casillas – Alves, Pique, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo – Xabi Alonso, Xavi Hernandez, Iniesta; Messi, Falcao, Ronaldo.
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Also at www.WorldSoccer.com
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