President Michel Platini insists referees will have the authority to abandon games over racial abuse at this summer’s European Championship, though he has warned players not to take the matter into their own hands.
Euro 2012 begins tomorrow when co-hosts Poland play 2004 champions Greece in Warsaw and there are genuine concerns that the tournament could be overshadowed by a repetition of the racism that has previously occurred at stadiums in Poland and fellow hosts Ukraine.
Though Platini is adamant that his reputation would not suffer if the matter became a significant one, he believes giving the referees the right to abandon fixtures is the best way to overcome any potential racism.
“Referees can finish the game,” said Platini. “They have this power in case of racism. That is, I think, the best way to protect the game against racism.
“My responsibility is not to do nothing – and we have done a lot to change the rules, to change the regulations, to help ‘You’re Fair’ and ‘Never Again’ [Uefa campaigns against racism and Xenophobia. We help them, we do a lot for racism – but I am not responsible for society.
“The society is not so easy. You have some problems and we have to organise these Euros from the beginning with some problems because these two countries never welcome so big an event in the past.
“It was a big challenge for Poland, big challenge for Ukraine, a big challenge for Uefa – and we have done our best.”
“We are shocked about racists but we are trying to do something; we have to fight against that.”
If Platini’s words were relatively reassuring for some, not least Manchester City and Italy striker Mario Balotelli, who has already threatened to leave the pitch if he is racially abused, they come with the caveat that abandoning any match is a decision the referee alone can take.
Balotelli has been the victim of racial abuse when previously playing for Italy and described the possibility of a repeat as unacceptable but Platini, though sympathetic, maintains that any player that leaves the pitch without the referee’s consent will receive a booking.
“It’s a yellow card,” Platini adds. “It’s not a player – Mr Balotelli – who’s in charge of refereeing. It’s the referee who takes these decisions.
“So the referee has been given advice and he can stop the game if there are problems.”