KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- FIFA president Gianni Infantino has told football it must do more than pay mere lip-service to the stream of strictures against racism in the game, whether by officials, players or fans.

Infantino, who is due to be re-elected unchallenged at the world federation’s congress in Paris in June, was reacting to the disgrace of highly-publicised recent incidents in eastern Europe, England, France and Italy.

FIFA has always spoken up against racism though its own practical response was put in question after insufficient reaction to crowd incidents at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and then the fading away of an anti-racism taskforce.

Raheem Sterling's response to abuse on Montenegro

Infantino was probably grateful for the opportunity to speak out publicly about something other than the possible expansion of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar which has dominated inner-circle politicking and headlines over the past year.

Clearly he would have preferred a positive issue rather than negative one.

Infantino said: “It has been very sad to see a number of racist incidents in football. This is really not acceptable. Racism has no place in football, just as it has no place in society either.

Recent incidents

“FIFA stands together with Prince Gouano, Kalidou Koulibaly, Raheem Sterling, Danny Rose, as well as any other player, coach, fan or participant in a football match who has suffered from racism, whether at the highest professional level or in a school playground. Racism needs to end. Full stop.”

Gouano was the captain of Amiens who was the subject of racist abuse at Dijon in a French league match last week; Napoli defender Koulibaly was targeted during a Europa League tie at Arsenal; Sterling and Rose were the victims while playing for England in Montenegro in a Euro 2020 qualifier.

Referees have been consistently reluctant to enact the ‘three-step procedure’ of public warning, match suspension and abandonment to the increasing frustration and anger of players. Several have indicated a willingness to take the law into their own hands and walk off in protest at both racist abuse and weak refereeing.

Infantino’s statement sought to remind reluctant referees, match officials and governing organisations of the availability of the ‘three-step procedure’.

He said: “FIFA urges all member associations, leagues, clubs and disciplinary bodies to adopt the same procedure, as well as a zero-tolerance approach to incidents of racism in football, and to apply harsh sanctions for any such kind of behaviour.

“We will not hesitate to do everything in our power to eradicate racism, and any other form of discrimination, from football, at any level and anywhere in the world.”

FIFA taskforce

FIFA’s then-president Sepp Blatter created the anti-racism taskforce in the spring of 2013 after high-profile incidents involving Kevin-Prince Boateng in Italy and Patrice Evra and Anton Ferdinand in England. Jeff Webb, the Cayman Island banker who was head of central and north American body CONCACAF, was appointed president.

Later concerns were raised that the taskforce had been created partly to assist Webb, then also a FIFA vice-president, to promote himself as a possible challenger to Frenchman Michel Platini, then head of UEFA, as possible successor to Blatter.

Subsequently all three men were variously banned from the game over ethics breaches. Platini and Blatter have denied wrongdoing over a ‘disloyal payment’ but Webb awaits sentencing on corruption charges he has admitted in the United States’ FIFAGate case.