UEFA is staring at an open goal. It’s there, courtesy of some depressingly familiar accusations of racist chanting aimed at Manchester City’s Yaya Toure by CSKA Moscow fans last night in the Russian capital; a city that FIFA has chosen to be at the heart of the World Cup in four years time. While historically UEFA has shown weak leadership fighting this cancer, this season Europe’s governing body has at least been more robust.
For example, Legia Warsaw were fined and forced to close part of their stadium after their supporters’ racist behaviour during a Champions League qualifier earlier this year and Lazio too must shut down a section of its terracing for a Europa Cup game next month due to a similar offence.
The Italians had to play two games behind closed doors last year for the same behaviour. It is about time UEFA’s patience ran out with these particular recidivists. In total UEFA has now handed down similar and even stronger sanctions to eight teams this season.
It’s part of their new hard line on racism which loosely follows a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy.
A first offence attracts a fine and partial stadium closure, a second offence leads to a bigger financial penalty and a game behind closed doors and a further transgression would mean a full stadium closure, maybe a deduction of points or even disqualification from competition.
UEFA is looking at the evidence from last night’s match and will make a decision on any punishment at the end of this month. As CSKA are first time offenders this season it is likely they will be told to play one game with a section of their ground closed off.
If UEFA does stick to its own rules then at least we are witnessing genuine progress compared to where we were less than two years ago when Nicholas Bendtner was fined 10 times more than some clubs were for their fan’s racist abuse.
Of course all of this assumes that CSKA are found guilty. The Moscow club are denying any of the accusations, saying, having carefully studied the video they found “no racist insults from fans of CSKA”
Much will depend on the referee’s report who himself may come under some pressure because referees now have the power to call off a game, if the fans ignore a warning to stop. For this to work, it is vital referees feel confident they’ll be fully supported by UEFA if they did make that extreme call. Otherwise the power is redundant.
Ovidiu Hategan didn’t act last night even after Toure complained to him. FIFA will of course be keeping a close eye on how all this plays out, given that Russia is staging the World Cup in 2018. If racism persists on the terraces of Europe at the current rate, then it won’t be long before UEFA will face the prospect of disqualifying a club. Only when that actually happens can we say for sure that Europe’s governing body – at long last - is as good as its word on one of football’s remaining evils.