Uefa's punishment over racist chanting 'hurts very few'

The Ivory Coast international was subject to racist chanting by a section of fans at the Arena Khimki. Photo: PA Wire

So, as predicted, CSKA Moscow will have to close part of their ground for their next Champions League match as a result of their fans targeting Manchester City’s Yaya Toure with racist abuse.

But what does this punishment actually achieve? A one-off game inside a partially-closed stadium actually hurts very few.

I’m well aware this is an incremental sanction; a repeated offence will mean a fully-closed stadium next time around and I also understand that we should not be throwing stones at Uefa just yet, because this is quite a robust response compared to where we were even 12 months ago.

So it is progress of sorts, but is this approach really going to achieve what it aims to?

Well, not according to FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter. Credit: Adam Davy/PA Wire

Yes, that’s right, the same Mr Blatter who advocated on field racist insults should be sorted out with a warm hand shake at the final whistle. OK, a different if related issue, but it’s quite a leap from a hand shake to deducting points or banning teams outright from competitions, which is what he is now suggesting.

It is almost certainly a stance championed because of a likely presidential showdown with Michel Platini next year. Blatter’s inference is that Platini and Uefa are being weak when confronted by football’s lingering disease.

But politics aside, and yes I am fully aware of the staggering irony here, is Blatter right?

Uefa has a protocol when it comes to racist chanting at games. The referee halts the game; the stadium announcer warns fans to stop and if they do not the man in the middle walks both teams off the pitch.

This did not happen during Manchester City’s match at CSKA Moscow, despite the fact that Toure alerted the referee to what was happening.

If any one of Uefa’s guidelines is ignored, then inaction is tantamount to encouraging abusive supporters to continue.

The referees are under enormous pressure as it is, so should they really be given the added responsibility of making those kind of seismic judgements?

Ovidiu Hategan, who was in charge in Moscow, would have been the first official to make such a move in such a high-profile match.

Referee Ovidiu Hategan was in charge during the Moscow match. Credit: Adam Davy/EMPICS Sport

Did he feel that if he made that call, far from being lauded he would have been hounded out of the game completely? It would take a very brave man to abandon a game if he wasn’t convinced his employers would stick by him, regardless of whether his decision was right or wrong.

Referees are not naive, they are well aware they’d be making a career-defining decision and aware too of the implications, the billions Europe’s TV giants pay for coverage and the worldwide controversy any such move would inevitably create.

Maybe the burden should lie elsewhere, perhaps with the fourth official, a referee has more than his hands full with a game in progress anyway.

But what of Uefa's punishments?

Fines clearly don’t work and partial or even full stadium closures, while they seem grand gestures, don’t seem to work either.

Sure, playing in front of a few ball-boys creates rather surreal TV coverage but not a lot else, save cutting off another income stream from the club.

Points deductions have to be the way forward for recidivists. Critics say it hurts the majority of well-behaved fans and there can be no argument with that.

But what better way to start a revolution, to encourage self-policing within grounds and to finally force clubs to stamp out a problem rather than just manage or at worst ignore it.

Like all extreme measures, it wouldn’t take long to have an impact. Of course racism is not of football’s making but racists use the game and its incredible exposure to promote their vile views.

In an instant a few dozen voices of hatred can be heard across the world - football is that high profile.

And that’s why, like it or not, football has a responsibility that reaches far beyond controlling unforgivable behaviour every now and then on the terraces.

It would take a bold man to ban a club from an elite competition for the behaviour of its racist fans or maybe it would take a man who before long will be fighting for the top job in world football.