Calls for Uefa to take firm action over racist abuse of England players
FA describes chants during England's Euro qualifier against Montenegro as ‘abhorrent’
Raheem Sterling reacts to the racist chanting from Montenegro fans after scoring England’s fifth goal at Podgorica City Stadium on Monday night. Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty Images
The Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin has described the racist abuse directed at England’s players in Podgorica as “a disaster” with Montenegro now facing a partial closure of their stadium at their next Euro 2020 qualifying tie.
The governing body opened formal disciplinary proceedings against the Montenegrins on Tuesday morning having received their delegate’s report from the game, as well as a complaint from the Football Association and testimonies from independent observers.
Danny Rose had been subjected to monkey chants following his booking for a foul on Aleksandar Boljevic in stoppage time at the end of England’s 5-1 win. The Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi later confirmed he and Rose had heard supporters “saying monkey stuff” during the first half, with Raheem Sterling – who led the calls for a ground closure – making a point of cupping his ears towards the most vociferous section of the home support after scoring the visitors’ fifth.
Some of the players’ families – including those of Jadon Sancho and Declan Rice – were sitting behind the home dug-out and had complained about the abuse to stewards, with one local fan apologising only to continue his abuse of those on the pitch.
“It’s a disaster,” said Ceferin while attending the European Club Association’s general assembly in Amsterdam. “I cannot say any more because it is now a matter for our disciplinary committee, but I cannot believe these people still exist.”
This is unacceptable at any level of the game and we welcome Uefa’s decision today to take disciplinary action
Under article 14 of Uefa’s disciplinary regulations, the minimum sanction to be imposed would be the partial closure of the stadium if Montenegro are found guilty by Uefa’s control, ethics and disciplinary commission on May 16th. That would most likely come into effect at their Euro 2020 qualifier against Kosovo in June.
The governing body have also charged the Montenegrins with setting off fireworks, crowd disturbances, blocking stairways and throwing objects. Hudson-Odoi had retrieved a cigarette lighter thrown on to the pitch after Sterling’s celebrations of the visitors’ fifth goal.
Politicians and anti-discrimination bodies have called for Uefa to take the firmest possible action against Montenegro, with the FA to co-operate with the inquiry.
“England players were subjected to abhorrent racist chanting,” said the FA in a statement. “This is unacceptable at any level of the game and we welcome Uefa’s decision today to take disciplinary action. Our immediate focus is on supporting Uefa with their investigation and the players and staff involved. The issues we saw on Monday night are not isolated to any specific country, and despite progress English football still has its own incidents of discrimination.
“Our experience is that by combining both sanctions and education, whilst working alongside campaigners such as Kick It Out, real progress can be made. But there remains much work to be done. Football is a game for all and we must all take responsibility to work together and share our experiences and learnings to tackle discrimination in the game.”
British prime minister Theresa May’s official spokesman called for “strong and swift action”, while Troy Townsend of Kick It Out insisted the governing body had “failed the game” in its handling of racist abuse in the past and urged them to “stop all the gimmicky stuff now and really come down hard on these nations who are still putting our black players under this kind of pressure”.
“What will happen? A fine, as normal,” he added. “They might close a section of the stadium, but I don’t think anyone can second-guess what Uefa are going to do.”
Football Against Racism in Europe (Fare) designated the game as high-risk and sent an experienced observer to the tie, who confirmed the abuse was clearly audible, most notably after Rose’s caution late on. Its own report backing the FA’s observations was submitted to Uefa on Tuesday morning, with an accompanying call for the governing body to “act decisively”. It is due to hold a two-day conference with Uefa and the FA on how to tackle the problem at Wembley next week.
He reiterated his commitment to dealing with this stain on our game, and to taking strong action
Ceferin’s dismay was echoed by Bobby Barnes, the PFA’s deputy chief executive and FIFPro European president, who was also at the event in Amsterdam.
“Aleksander has expressed his equal frustration with myself that racism had raised its ugly head again,” he said. “He reiterated his commitment to dealing with this stain on our game, and to taking strong action once the evidence has been properly examined. I firmly believe he intends to tackle this issue.”
The Montenegro Football Federation released a statement insisting it has “always been committed to partnering with international football organisations in the fight against all types of discrimination on the ground and outside”.
“We have not had any previous cases of religious, gender or racial discrimination at the matches of our national team,” the statement continued. “In a multicultural and multi-ethnic society such as Montenegro, there is no place for such behaviour.”
It pledged to identify any individuals, and ban them from national fixtures, in the event of any incidents of racism in future.