By Wayne Veysey | Chief Correspondent
Even Uefa, whose track record of myopia when it comes to dealing with the scourge of racism is extensive, cannot turn a blind eye this time.
Not when the footage from Krusevac depicts such grave and shameful scenes, shedding Serbian football and society in the worst imaginable light.
The conduct of the Serbia backroom staff will come under severe scrutiny in the coming days. How can it not when the conditioning coach Andrija Milutinovic is seen headbutting England’s goalkeeping coach Martin Thomas on the pitch, Serbia’s goalkeeping coach Srdjan Maksimovic raises a fist during a touchline brawl and Stuart Pearce’s No.2 Steve Wigley is kicked in the stomach while heading for the sanctuary of the dressing room?
The Wild West scenes in a remote eastern European town are a sickening throwback to an era when football was watched through barbed wire fences.
But the Neanderthal behaviour witnessed on the pitch after England Under-21s’ victory in their Euro 2013 qualifier should not be allowed the mask the bigger picture.
What should be of greater concern to Uefa bureaucrats is the first-hand reports of sustained racism from the stands that began during the warm-ups, continued in the first half and reached an ugly crescendo with the abuse directed at Tottenham’s Danny Rose.
|RACIST ABUSE IN SERBIA
ALL THE REACTION & COMMENT
The physical scars will soon heal. The mental wounds will not.
The pressure from England and the English media for Uefa to not only throw the book at Serbia, but the entire library, will be intense over the coming days. Rightly so.
It is time for European football’s governing body to ban the Serbs. No other action is sufficient.
Only an exile will demonstrate that Michel Platini intends to back up his threats to the Serbia FA with firm action, and send a clear message to the rest of European football that racism will not be tolerated.
As Platini and his colleagues in their smart offices overlooking Lake Geneva digest Tuesday evening’s disgraceful events, the Uefa president’s words in the wake of the abandonment of the international between Italy and Serbia in Genoa last year as a result of the behaviour of the visiting supporters should be writ large.
“In case this violent incident should repeat itself by hooligans, the Serbian clubs and national team will be banned from all European competitions,” said Platini.
Those words will prove embarrassingly hollow for the president-elect of Fifa if the bigots are not dealt with in the strongest possible terms.
For so long, Uefa has given the impression that it does not care about the stain of racism.
Back in 2007, the Serbian FA were fined a mere £16,500 for the racist chanting directed by supporters to Nedum Onuoha in what was also an England Under-21s fixture. Last year, Porto were ordered to pay £16,700 after Mario Balotelli was subjected to monkey chants by Porto fans during a Europa League match against Manchester City.
By contrast, Uefa was prepared to flex its muscles when Nicklas Bendtner revealed a betting company’s logo on his underpants after scoring a goal during Euro 2012. The Dane was fined £80,000 and banned for one match.
It would surprise no-one if Poland are hit with a heavier fine for failing to close their roof than Serbia are for presiding over one of the vilest nights in modern times.
Uefa’s feebleness when dealing with racism seems almost ingrained. Responding to the suggestion by Balotelli that he would leave the pitch if racially abused once again by fans or players, Platini made the ill-judged comment that such action would result only in disciplinary measures against the player.
How pathetic. Such weak administration when confronted with the stain of discrimination serves only to compound what remains a considerable problem, most prominently in eastern Europe but also in Spain, Portugal and Italy.
Though racism is obviously still present in English society and football, as highlighted by the FA convicting John Terry for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, considerable strides have been made.
At home, Rose, Marvin Sordell and the other black players subjected to such disgraceful abuse in Serbia, do not have to play in football stadiums in which this behaviour is considered evenly remotely normal.
They deserve the full support of the authorities, those who have the power to root out regular repeats of intolerance.
Naturally, Uefa must conduct a thorough investigation of events in Krusevac. If England were not blameless, then they, too, should be called to account.
But the alarming footage and first-hand accounts filtering through from Serbia demonstrate whose fingerprints were all over an occasion that strikes deep into the very soul of the game.
We hear a lot from football's powerbrokers about its unique power to bring people together; in the coming days and weeks, the game must live up to its rhetoric.
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