Powder-puff Uefa let Serbia off the hook and miss golden chance to send clear message on racism

The European governing body's priorities look skewed following the punishments handed down after the violence that marred October's Under-21 match against England
By James Goldman

The only surprise was that the reaction to the paltry punishments handed down by Uefa to Serbia’s Football Association was one of surprise. The European governing body’s stance on racism has long been weak and lacking in conviction. It is a fight they shamefully appear to be uninterested in winning.

After the abhorrent monkey chanting and subsequent brawl that broke out between players and staff representing England and Serbia’s Under-21 sides in October, Uefa were presented with an opportunity to come down, with unprecedented force, on serial offenders, whose only defence appeared to be one of ignorance.

An inconsequential fine of £65,000, even when you throw in bans for five players, a two-year suspension for the fitness coach who attacked England goalkeeper coach Martin Thomas, and an order to play their next game behind closed doors, does not send a powerful enough message nor strong enough deterrent. Not by half.
  • October 2012: Lazio fined £32,500 after racist chanting during Europa League tie with Spurs.
  • June 2012: Russia fined £24,203 and Spain £16,137 after fans racially abused players at Euro 2012.
  • April 2012: Porto fined £16,700 after monkey chants were aimed at Manchester City’s Mario Balotelli during a Europa League tie.
  • September 2011: Bulgarian FA fined £34,230 after monkey chants were heard during a Euro 2012 qualifying tie against England.
  • June 2008: Croatian FA fined £10,000 for racist behaviour by fans during a Euro 2008 quarter-final with Turkey.

How can it be enough when the overriding emotion felt by the guilty party is one of relief, rather than shame, remorse and regret?

“The punishment is not as harsh as we thought it might be,” said the Serbian FA’s general secretary Zoran Lakovic - words that add considerable insult to injuries, emotional and physical, suffered by England’s black players, two of whom, Steven Caulker and Tom Ince, have been banned themselves, despite being subjected to intense, sub-human provocation.

Can anyone in a position of significance at Uefa’s headquarters in Nyon be content and confident that the various punishments fit the crimes? Depressingly, we must conclude, yes. Protocol has been followed they will no doubt argue. If that is the case, the rule book is in urgent need of rewriting.

It is true that our own Football Association operates from within something of a glass house where racism is concerned at present – John Terry and Luis Suarez have seen to that – while the ugly scenes that marred last weekend’s Manchester derby demonstrate that hooliganism if not rife, has not been totally eradicated.

Those high-profile cases, however, should not prevent the likes of Alex Horne and David Bernstein continuing to seize the moral high ground and carry the fight right to Uefa’s doorstep, hammer the door down and ensure they act accordingly. They owe it to the players who represent them at the very least, even if their pleas are likely to fall on deaf ears.

Bernstein and Horne were both commendably swift in their condemnation of Uefa’s latest own goal, but while they dress and speak like men who possess considerable power, they are largely impotent when it comes to lobbying for change.

The real power lies with the players themselves. Boycotting potential future games against Serbia might prove counterproductive in one sense – this is a country after all that needs educating rather than ostracising – but it would certainly sharpen the minds that are seemingly more focused on the evils of ambush marketing if the fine handed out to Nicklas Bendtner at this summer’s European Championship is anything to go by.

Such a course of action might even prompt a response from Michel Platini. Last week the Uefa president was only too happy to verbally pat himself on the back after announcing he was set to turn Euro 2020 into a travelling roadshow.

Where was he on Thursday when clear leadership and forthright condemnation was required? Dipping into the corporate trough in Tokyo while the Club World Cup takes place? Every organisation takes its direction from the top. Over to you, Mr Platini.

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