Italy drafted plans for stopping matches in cases of racism on Wednesday while Bulgaria and Hungary said they would appeal against sanctions imposed because of the behaviour of their fans at recent games. By Brian Homewood.
The Italian government’s watchdog for sporting events (ONMS) said public security directors would be empowered to stop games as the fallout continued from last week’s incident where AC Milan walked off during a friendly because of racist abuse.
Following a meeting with the Italian federation, the ONMS drew up clear guidelines for procedures in cases of racism and said public security forces should hold regular exercises to make sure they were prepared to clear stadiums in the event of abandoned matches.
The ONMS said in cases of racism the referee should alert the fourth official who should in turn report the incident to the public security director at games.
“The director of the public order service has the sole responsibility for suspending the match,” said a statement.
Meanwhile, Bulgaria, whose fans racially insulted a Danish player, and Hungary, whose fans were found guilty of anti-Semitic behaviour during a friendly at home to Israel, protested after being ordered to play home World Cup qualifiers behind closed doors.
Hungary said the decision, announced by FIFA’s disciplinary committee on Tuesday, was “overly harsh and unfair” and Bulgaria said they had been “punished disproportionately”.
Bulgaria will host Malta at an empty stadium in March while Hungary, who have not qualified for the World Cup since 1986, will have to play their potentially decisive match at home to Romania behind closed doors.
Hungary and Romania are level on nine points, three behind Group D leaders the Netherlands.
“That the Hungarian national team must serve its punishment at a vital game in the most prestigious international tournament for an incident at a friendly game seems overly harsh and unfair even before receiving the precise reasoning,” said the Hungarian Football Association (MLSZ).
“Therefore MLSZ will file its appeal after it receives the ruling in order for a more just decision in proportion to what happened.”
“MLSZ – like FIFA and UEFA – is still determined to expel from the stadiums hateful acts and fan behaviour that do not adhere to the spirit of fair play.
“It is committed to making sure extremist voices that do not adhere to civilised norms disappear from Hungarian football fields as soon as possible.”
Hungary’s national sports daily ran a full front-page image on Wednesday saying “Locked out!” and called the decision “shocking” while fan pages on social media sites exploded with condemnations of FIFA and its leaders, often repeating anti-Semitic slurs.
Bulgarian media described their team’s punishment as “deserved” and “logical”, blaming local authorities for doing too little to deal with the problem.
However, the country’s football union (BFU) said it was doing what it could and would appeal.
“Our main motive will be that we were punished disproportionately for racism and discriminatory behaviour of a very small group of the crowd in the Bulgaria v Denmark match,” BFU’s president Borislav Mihaylov said in a statement.
“(We were punished) not only with a game behind closed doors but we were also fined 35,000 Swiss francs ($37,800).
“In fact, we are sanctioned twice for the same thing, which is not fair,” added Mihaylov, who is also an executive committee member of European football’s governing body UEFA.
The BFU said it will seek the support of the interior ministry to try to identify the trouble-makers and impose stadium bans “for a long time”.
FIFA described the incidents at the Hungary-Israel match in Budapest in August as “an abhorrent episode of racism, anti-Semitism, and of political provocative and aggressive nature perpetrated by supporters of the Hungarian national team.”
It said that the “offensive, denigratory and discriminatory actions of a small group of Bulgarian supporters, was shameful and a clear breach of the FIFA Disciplinary Code.” DM
Photo: Maribor soccer fans cheer for their team during their Europa League soccer match against Lazio at the Olympic stadium in Rome October 4, 2012. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." ~ Thomas Paine