We have on our hands, it would seem, a very unusual week in football.
On the pitch the Premier League title race ebbed and flowed with Manchester United’s stumble against Wigan – a team that had never tasted success against Sir Alex Ferguson's side in the Premier League – while Mario Balotelli somehow escaped punishment for his atrocious knee high tackle on Alex Song.
Elsewhere QPR’s Shaun Derry’s appeal to have his soft-as-a-cloud red card against United overturned failed. Incredulity ensued.
However none of the football related action of this increasingly strange week can hold a torch to the murky dealings of UEFA, whose sole mission it would seem is to portray a governing body flying by the seat of its pants with little or no common sense.
It was announced yesterday that Manchester City were to be fined €30,000 (£25,000) after taking to the field ‘up to 60 seconds’ late for the second half of Europa League tie against Sporting Lisbon in March.
A month earlier, the Premier League club complained to UEFA after two of its players, Mario Balotelli and Yaya Toure, were the victims of racial abuse from fans of their opponents, Porto, in the previous round of the same competition.
The decision from above regarding Porto’s punishment came earlier this week. They would pay a paltry €20,000 (£16,500) for their fans' crimes.
In a season where Luis Suarez was handed an eight game ban for his jibes aimed at Patrice Evra and England captain John Terry faces a court cases over accusations of racial abuse aimed at QPR’s Anton Ferdinand, there is no greater time for the governing body of European football to send a clear message – and with a European Championships on the horizon, UEFA can surely do without any controversy.
The lack of consistency in UEFA’s approach to doling out punishments is at once baffling, infuriating and saddening - and it is not only recently that they have undermined the efforts to eliminate racism from football in a season where the issue has reared its ugly head and requires shorter shrift than ever.
Arsene Wenger was handed a €40,000 fine for speaking out against referee Damir Skomina following Arsenal’s 3-0 defeat against A.C Milan in the Champions League.
The Frenchman’s exact words? "I was not happy with the referee because he gave them many free-kicks in the centre of the park. Every time a player went down it was a free-kick to them. The [Milan] players sensed that very quickly on the pitch and used it well."
In what world does this mild criticism of a referee’s performance warrant double the fine handed to a club for its supporters' racist abuse? Football’s governing have proved time after time their perception of racism in football is warped with their sluggish, slap-dash punishments while when it comes to precious referees, they go for the jugular.
This is not a new problem whatsoever. UEFA handed the Serbian F.A a €20,000 fine – the same punishment handed out to Porto – for spectators’ racist abuse directed towards England’s Under-21 team in 2007, while the Croatian F.A were forced to hand over the whopping sum of €10,000 after fans unveiled a racist banner during a Euro 2008 encounter against Turkey.
UEFA’ systematic failure of dealing with racism in football smacks of a lack of common sense.
Precedent and directives in both England and on the continent have thrown up some oddities this week at the expense of what most know and believe is right – in the case of Balotelli a directive (admittedly laid down by FIFA) meant that the Italian couldn’t be punished retrospectively because referee Martin Atkinson said he saw the incident. Common sense has been abandoned.
Clearly, if the equal sums handed down to both Porto and the Serbian F.A are anything to go by, UEFA deem €20,000 an appropriate punishment, and it is a precedent they are happy to abide by. A gentle slap on the wrists for a problem that rots the flesh of the game.
It is not that even that set against the context of Wenger’s and City’s punishment that the fines handed out for racism across Europe are weak; standing on their own they represent a half-hearted effort at the very least.
Will there ever be a day that fines reach six figures, where points are deducted and games are played behind closed doors? €20,000 is the price of a crime that would land you in front of a judge were you on the street – it seems that in the confines of a stadium the law is an ass.
UEFA say that the fine against Porto was lenient because it is their first offence; not necessarily true, William Gallas and Didier Drogba received similar treatment from the club’s fans back in 2004, but this was deemed too long ago to take into consideration. The sign of a body tackling racism seriously? Undoubtedly not.
The fact that both City’s and Porto’s punishment came in the same week only served the purpose of offering context, it is sad to say that without it, Porto’s fine would have gone largely unreported.
Between UEFA president Michel Platini and FIFA leader Sepp Blatter, who once claimed that any issue of racism in football should be put to bed ‘with a handshake’ there is little hope of common sense prevailing and greater punishments being handed out, surely the only way to stop racism.
Neither body has made any great moves to eliminate racism from the game beyond token gestures and empty rhetoric.
If either had taken a stance, then by now someone somewhere would have been on the receiving end of a much harsher punishment and they could lay claim to at least semblance of credibility.
Platini remember, is earmarked as the new head of FIFA, when Blatter, steps down. There is seemingly little hope of eliminating racism while UEFA, and FIFA, offer such a comfortable environment for it to thrive in.
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