LONDON: The affair of the phantom racist chants during England’s World Cup qualifying win in San Marino is continuing to cause confusion writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
All previous racist chant issues have been clearcut: heavily-laden insults aimed by fans of one team at players of the opposition out on the pitch and which are picked up by the broadcasting facilities.
The oddity about the San Marino match is that the insults appear – thus far – not to have been heard by broadcasters and journalists, have been reported to FIFA by an organisation (FARE) which was not represented at the match and concerns alleged insults directed at two footballers (Anton and Rio Ferdinand) who were not in the stadium and not even in the country.
Such has been the high profile afforded to racist behaviour by the Football Association that it cannot expect any disciplinary mercy if the chants (suggesting the burning of the Ferdinand brothers) are proven to have been heard by someone of credibility in Serravalle.
But that is the question. Or, more confusingly, was there a ‘crime’ if the chants were chanted but not heard by anyone apart from the perpetrators?
The FA has insisted it is taking the matter seriously. Club England managing director Adrian Bevington said: “While we have no reason to dispute the media reports which are without doubt made for the right reasons of fighting racism, at this time we have not found any recorded evidence of the specific discriminatory chanting referring to Rio and Anton Ferdinand and the vile ‘bonfire’ song.
“We will of course continue to review all of our recorded footage. The FA takes all incidents and allegations of racism extremely seriously. In San Marino, we had FA security officers monitoring the English supporters in the stadium. This includes recorded video footage.
“We also worked closely with UK police in advance of and on the night of the game.
“We recognise the importance of FARE’s responsibility to report any incidents to FIFA. We will liaise with FIFA and work with them to assist any investigation. Should evidence of any racial chanting be found, we would expect action to be taken against any individuals.
“We would expect banning orders to be issued by the courts as a minimum penalty. We do not want supporters who chant vile or racist abuse following the England team.”
This raises the question of what jurisdiction UK courts have over as-yet-unproven allegations of racist chanting in a minnow state within Italy. Further, any disciplinary action by the international football authorities has to be enacted against national associations (in this case, England’s Football Association).
Rio Ferdinand can be perceived as having contributed to the issue not so much by pulling out of the squad after selection but by excusing himself on the grounds of rest cure demands and then flying off to Doha to comment, lucratively, on the match for Aljazeera.
Yet Aljazeera has studios in London and there can be no difference in perceptions of the same TV pictures whether viewed in Knightsbridge or Qatar.
The FA statement followed criticism from Kick It Out chairman Lord Ouseley that the organisation should take a stance on the “vile” and “abusive” chants.
Ouseley told BBC Radio: “Whether it’s racist or not, it’s certainly unacceptable. It’s vile and it shouldn’t be part of sport. Something needs to be done about it.
“These are the supporters of the England national team who are travelling abroad and singing songs like that. What messages does it send out about the type of people we are and who we represent?
“The Football Association should be taking a stance on this about the people it wants supporting the England team, the image it wants to send abroad.
“I’ve already contacted the chairman of the Football Association and said this has to be looked at, investigated and dealt with. Do you want to be having an army of fans who call themselves the England fans travelling abroad, being abusive to their own players like that, or indeed other people?
“FIFA will determine (whether it is racist) but clearly we can take a stance on that. We have policies on anti-racism, homophobia and all other forms of unacceptable behaviour. Why are we so quiet about it?”
FIFA confirmed having received a complaint.
It said: “We can confirm that FIFA has been contacted by FARE regarding the FIFA World Cup qualifier match between San Marino and England last Friday. FIFA will now analyse the content of the documents and next steps will be determined in due course.”
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