KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has ordered European football officials to step up their resistance to racism in the game.

The European federation has been criticised for not taking a strong enough lead after a widespread increase across the continent of racist incidents from crowd chants to individual player-on-player abuse.

Too often referees and match officials have been perceived as turning a deaf ear to abusing chanting, a blind eye to insulting banners and displaying an overall reluctance to halt and even abandon games.

Aleksander Ceferin addressing UEFA Congress

Ceferin told congress in Amsterdam: “Many of us have been sickened by what we have witnessed in a number of European stadiums this season.

“The problem is not on the pitch, where diversity is greater than in any other sport and probably any other part of society. The problem is in our societies – and this has to stop. Things need to change.

“We must begin by applying the rules we already have. That would be a good starting point. That means applying the three-step procedure. We must not be afraid to do so. Everywhere. No exceptions.

Stadium closures

“In the last three seasons, the UEFA disciplinary bodies have imposed 73 partial stadium closures and ordered 39 matches to be played behind closed doors following incidents of discrimination.

“That shows that we are doing what is currently in our power to do. But it also shows what a serious problem it is, and that we need to do more. More, and perhaps differently. So we that can be proud of ourselves once again.”

Earlier Ceferin told delegates that the popularity of UEFA’s competitions around the world far outstripped that of world federation FIFA and the International Olympic Committee.

Ceferin cautioned, however, that “one of the most important sports organisations in the world” and its 55 member associations should take pride in a welter of financial, viewing and interactive statistics only if they could be sure that they were putting the revenues to the service of the development of the game rather than for their own selfish sake.

He said: “Should we be ashamed that we increased our revenue by 38% in a single season? Should we be ashamed that we redistributed record sums, giving 50pc more money to teams that participated in our competitions?

“Should we be ashamed to be considered the home of the best football in the world? Four European semi-finalists at the last men’s World Cup. Seven European quarter-finalists at the most recent women’s World Cup.

“Should we be ashamed that we organise 26m matches each year? That we have around 20 million registered players in total, more than 160,000 qualified referees in Europe, 144,000 amateur clubs and 1,800 professional clubs?

“In other words, should we be ashamed of being the largest social movement at least in Europe if not in the world?”

Worldwide appeal

There was more in this vein: the total TV audience for the Euro finals was more than 30 times that of the Super Bowl and the Champions League final was the world’s most-watched annual football club event.

That added up, in the current four-year cycle, to income of more than €15bn – “more than double the €6.6 billion or so that FIFA will make over the same period, and twice as much as the IOC is able to generate in the same cycle.”

Ceferin attempted to fend off perpetual, popular accusations that professional football has relegated the game itself in priority terms behind money, audience figures and social media stats.

He said: “Power is about making the best possible use of the resources available to achieve your objectives and our primary objective is to protect, promote and develop European football.”

** UEFA elected Germany’s Rainer Koch on to the executive committee for a one-year term and Frenchman Noel Le Graet on to the FIFA Council for a three-year term.