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UEFA plans stronger sanctions to combat racism

Apr 10, 2013, 8:10 AM EDT

UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League - Quarter Finals Draw Getty Images

Is UEFA finally getting tougher on racism?

Players and officials found guilty of racist behavior will face 10-match bans and clubs could have their stadiums closed if fans racially-abuse players, the general secretary of European soccer’s governing body said today.

Gianni Infantino (pictured) told the Soccerex European Forum in Manchester: “We have to have sanctions and they must have a deterrent effect and what we are proposing is if a player or official is convicted of racism they should receive a 10-match suspension at least. If supporters at a club are found guilty of racist abuse the first sanction will be a partial closure of the part of the stadium from which the racist abuse took place. For a second offence there will be the full closure and a minimum fine of 50,000 euros [about $66,000].”

That’s a longer ban than Chelsea’s John Terry (four games) and Luis Suarez of Liverpool (eight) received in England’s two highest-profile such cases in recent years.

The sanctions would likely start next season and apply to European competitions under the UEFA banner, such as the Champions League, Europa League and European Championships.

Putting aside the baffling comments of Malaga’s owner yesterday after his team was knocked out of the Champions League, it’s obvious that racism remains a serious problem in Europe – remember that A.C. Milan walked off the pitch in a January friendly when Kevin-Prince Boateng was abused by a section of the crowd.

And only today, UEFA ordered Dynamo Kiev to play their next European game behind-closed-doors because of “racist behavior by the Ukrainian club’s supporters” during games against Paris Saint-Germain and Bordeaux (Dynamo are appealing).

A genuine UEFA crackdown is long overdue and comes after plenty of media criticism at their habit of doling out weak punishments, such as tiny fines, that haven’t given the slightest impression that the organization is truly serious about combating racism.

Last April, Manchester City were fined 30,000 euros for being a minute late back on the field for the second half of a Europa League game against Sporting Lisbon. Yet Porto were ordered to pay only 20,000 Euros for their fans racially-abusing City players in the previous round.

Since high-level European soccer is awash with money, it’s not fines that will make a difference. But a 10-match ban for a player? That amounts to nearly two seasons’ worth of Champions League group games. Surely long enough to make players behave more responsibly. As for fans in countries where racism is endemic in society: it’s naive to imagine that soccer sanctions can solve problems with cultural and historical roots. But there’s no harm in trying, and it’s right to take a stand.

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