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Saturday, Oct. 11, 2008

PREMIER REPORT

Racist abuse continues to poison beautiful game


LONDON — Rio Ferdinand this week hit out at the inadequate punishment that one of world football's most respected authorities handed out for racist behavior.

Christopher Davies

No, not the three-game suspension the Football Association gave Reading defender John Mackie after he admitted making racist remarks to Sheffield United striker Carl Asaba.

The Manchester United and England defender was unhappy with the £15,000 fine FIFA gave the Croatian Football Federation after its fans racially abused Emile Heskey when the teams met in Zagreb last month.

The F.A. (it would be interesting to know how many black employees there are at Soho Square) has also criticized FIFA for not being stronger, forgetting it hardly came down like a ton of bricks on the last significant racism charge it handled.

A lot of people talk the talk, but they don't all walk the walk.

Racism is one of the most sensitive issues in society, not just sport. It is easy to say FIFA or UEFA should do this or that, but a wider appreciation of the situation is needed.

Ferdinand said: "FIFA make comments about what they will do but never back it up with actions. The football authorities need to take a look at themselves. Croatia were fined a few thousand quid. What's that going to do?

"That is not going to stop people shouting racist or homophobic abuse. If things like this keep happening, you have to take points off them. Then punters will realize the team is going to be punished.

"Sepp Blatter (the FIFA president) likes to speak up about things that are good for FIFA's image, but I would love to see them stand up and dish out the right punishments for these incidents."

Ferdinand might have said the same about the punishment, or lack of, the F.A. gave to Mackie five years ago.

While not condoning racist chanting in any way, how do you equate it with violence?

If a team or country is docked points for abusive chanting by its fans, what punishment should be given for fighting, the throwing of missiles and flares which could possibly kill a spectator?

Should both offenses be treated the same?

The three-game ban the F.A. handed out to Mackie was surely too lenient but to dock Croatia points, which could possibly cost it qualification for a major finals, because perhaps a couple of hundred fans made monkey noises at a black player would be like a £2,000 parking ticket.

Racism is abhorrent, but in law if a person is racially abused, the guilty party would not receive a punishment the same as if he had assaulted the victim.

Racially abusing someone would probably result in a fine. Striking them could see the perpetrator jailed.

Lord Triesman, the F.A. chairman, will speak to Blatter about the Croatia fine. "I intend to seek an early meeting with Sepp Blatter to discuss the response to racism," said Triesman. "I want to make sure that the response to instances of racist abuse are dealt with fully and effectively.

"FIFA imposes its own fines and takes its own decisions, but we would meet our obligations to players who are either black or from a different religious group if we make sure at international level we all understand the seriousness of racism to the same extent."

Triesman is no doubt aware that six years ago UEFA gave the F.A. a record fine of £68,000 for racist behavior by England fans for the visit of Turkey.

It would also be interesting to hear Triesman's response if Blatter mentions the Mackie punishment.

Incredibly, Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, believed Mackie's public apology to Asaba and the Reading player's self-imposed fine of two weeks' wages should have been sufficient.

Taylor said: "Obviously we were very concerned about the comments that were made but it's to John Mackie's credit that he has subsequently reacted in this way and apologized. We would expect Carl Asaba to accept that apology, which was unreserved and do not feel there is any reason for the F.A. to take any action in this case."

One PFA member racially abuses another and the chief executive saw no reason for the F.A. to take action as the player apologized. That's all right then.

Amazing.

(I shall allow readers a 30-second head-shaking timeout at this point).

* * * * *

LORD TRIESMAN urged Tottenham to issue life bans to fans who verbally abused Sol Campbell at Portsmouth last month.

Campbell has been a constant target for Spurs supporter after he left White Hart Lane for rivals Arsenal seven years ago.

The chanting, homophobic rather than racial, was vile and Triesman said: "I abhor the treatment of Sol Campbell by supporters. I hope the individuals will be identified and, if appropriate, banned from Tottenham's ground."

Ferdinand added: "The high-tech cameras should be able to pick up the people who are doing that kind of stuff and eject them from the ground. That is the only way I can see to stop it happening."

While CCTV can pick out a fan hitting another supporter or throwing a missile, it can be difficult to prove what anyone was chanting or singing. Lip-reading would be inadmissible in court, so in this respect the videotapes of Tottenham fans at Fratton Park are likely to prove inconclusive unless body language or arm movements leave no doubt as to what was meant.

The F.A. could charge Spurs for the behavior of their fans. For the first time in its history, four years ago, the F.A. charged Millwall with "failing to ensure that fans refrained from racist and/or abusive behavior" following a League Cup tie against Liverpool at the Den.

Christopher Davies covers the Premier League for the London Daily Telegraph.


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