Major blow in football’s racism fight as UEFA deal with anti-discrimination partner stalls

UEFA's 'No To Racism' Credit: PA

UEFA, European football’s governing body, has lost one of the key weapons it uses to identify and punish fans spouting extreme and offensive views.

ITV News has learnt that every single high-risk match so far this season has taken place without undercover monitors, who since 2013 have been UEFA’s eyes and ears on all discrimination incidents within European grounds.

This means inevitably that abuse directed at players is more likely to go undetected.

Even though racism has never been higher on football’s agenda, UEFA, and the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) network, which recruits and trains independent spotters, have failed to agree a new contract.

As a result, an estimated 80 matches that would otherwise have been scrutinised for evidence of racism, extreme nationalism, homophobia, xenophobia, or anti-Semitism, have escaped surveillance.

Many players take the knee before matches. Credit: PA

Instead, UEFA has been relying on reports from its own staff who are employed primarily to stage the games, or any videos passed to them or posted by fans on social media.  

In a statement to ITV News, UEFA said: “The contract with FARE for providing match observers is currently being renewed and therefore no external observers were deployed at UEFA matches.

"Nevertheless, FARE continues to submit reports in case of alleged incidents to UEFA.

"Similarly, all UEFA officials, e.g. UEFA Delegate, UEFA Security Officer etc,  submit a post-match report with incidents to UEFA.

"Once the discussions with FARE have been concluded, their normal service will resume.”

Spotters were in place for England's match in Hungary when racism took place. Credit: PA

FARE has trained 180 observers since the scheme was launched seven years ago and up to 80 of them are used throughout any season.

The network estimates that almost 10% of all European games experience significant discrimination by way of chanting or visible banners.

Monitors are assigned to these games, sometimes at great personal risk, and then feedback any information to UEFA. 

FARE still has an agreement with FIFA, so monitors will be operational at several World Cup qualifying matches in Europe over the next couple of weeks.

They were also in Budapest when Raheem Sterling and Jude Bellingham were subjected to monkey chants while playing for England and so were able to submit eyewitness accounts to FIFA.

The delay in signing the contract between FARE and UEFA threatens significant work the anti-discrimination network supports across Europe. 

It funds 200 groups that run activities fighting racism or promoting social inclusion and is also heavily involved in educational work for national associations and clubs. 

The FARE Network has been approached for comment.