UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin, has admitted the body has not done enough to combat racism in European football.
UEFA has come under criticism amid a spate of racist incidents in recent months, ranging from monkey chants aimed at Romelu Lukaku and Mario Balotelli in Italy, to the abuse that was directed at England’s black players during their Euro 2020 qualifier away to Bulgaria in October.
After an investigation into the shameful scenes in Sofia, UEFA punished Bulgaria by forcing them to play their next competitive home game behind closed doors with a further match suspended for two years. The Bulgaria football union were also fined €75,000.
However the sanction was criticised by the anti-discrimination network Football Against Racism in Europe (Fare), which said it was disappointed Bulgaria had not been expelled from the competition after being found guilty of a third offence this year, while Kick It Out said Uefa had “missed an opportunity” to send the right message.
Ceferin conceded that a different, stronger approach is required to tackle what appears to be a worsening problem.
“I don’t blame the players for [what they say,]” he said in an interview with the Daily Mirror.
“I understand the players are desperate because of the punishments and the incidents that are happening again and again.
“I am not so naive to think we’ve done all we can and now everything is finished. We haven’t. We are trying and we care. We are ready to listen to criticism. Every week there is something – not just since Bulgaria, not since England, not since Cagliari (where Lukaku was racially abused). We’ve been listening. Every week we hear about some shit happening around Europe. And we speak.”
Asked if he had underestimated how badly European football was blighted by racism, the one-time lawyer said: “Yes, I did. The situation in Europe is more and more tense. You can feel it.”
Ceferin accused politicians, blaming them for stoking racism across the continent and is particularly critical of Boris Johnson, who himself had criticised UEFA for their sanctions against Bulgaria.
“When a politician who calls women with burqas postboxes or mailboxes then says publicly that he condemns you UEFA – do you reply to that?” Ceferin said. “Do you believe it’s honest? Come on.”