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Leading figures in soccer call on Blatter to step down

By Chris Murphy, CNN
updated 10:44 PM EST, Thu November 17, 2011
David Beckham on comments by FIFA President Sepp Blatter:
David Beckham on comments by FIFA President Sepp Blatter: "I think the remarks were appalling, personally."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Leading figures in the world of football, including Beckham, criticize Sepp Blatter
  • World soccer chief caused outrage by saying on-field racism doesn't exist in the game
  • UK sports minister Hugh Robertson said Blatter's views were morally "indefensible"
  • Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand called remarks "condescending"

(CNN) -- Leading figures in the world of soccer, including superstar David Beckham, on Thursday blasted FIFA President Sepp Blatter for controversial remarks he made on racism in an interview with CNN World Sport.

The head of world football told CNN's Pedro Pinto there is no on-field racism in football and that any player who has been abused should simply shake hands with his opponent at the end of the match and move on.

Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand, a former England captain, expressed his outrage on Twitter, blasting Blatter's comments as "so condescending it's almost laughable."

"I think the remarks were appalling, personally," Beckham said in an interview with CNN's Paul Vercammen. "All I care about is keeping racism out of soccer and out of sport. Because it's not just in sports it's in life in general. So it has to be stopped and we're part of that."

Beckham, who plays in the United States for LA Galaxy, said something should be done, but he stopped short of saying Blatter should step down.

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Blatter: 'There is no racism' on pitch
FIFA president Sepp Blatter's 2011 remarks on racism in football -- that on-pitch abuse can be solved with a handshake -- were just one of a series of controversial quotes to be attributed to the head of world soccer. FIFA president Sepp Blatter's 2011 remarks on racism in football -- that on-pitch abuse can be solved with a handshake -- were just one of a series of controversial quotes to be attributed to the head of world soccer.
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Pedro Pinto: My crazy day with Sepp

The chief executive of England's Professional Footballers' Association, Gordon Taylor, told CNN that Blatter should quit.

"He should step down," he said. "This is the straw that broke the camel's back. We need football to set a good example, so this is inexcusable.

The Swiss was re-elected unopposed as the head of football's governing body in June after his main rival was suspended amid corruption allegations. The bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups was also dogged by bribery allegations.

Soon after Blatter gave his interview to CNN on Wednesday, his position appeared to be undermined when the English Football Association charged Liverpool's Luis Suarez with racism toward a fellow player.

Suarez allegedly taunted Manchester United's French defender Patrice Evra. Suarez, from Uruguay, denies the claims.

London's Metropolitan Police are also investigating allegations of racism against Chelsea and England captain John Terry. He denies claims he racially abused the brother of Rio Ferdinand, Anton, during a Premier League match.

Blatter: No on-field racism in football

The UK sports minister Hugh Robertson echoed calls for Blatter to quit. "Racism is a criminal offense in this country and anybody who is caught will face criminal sanctions," he told CNN.

"What Sepp Blatter has said, in this country, is just completely wrong as well as morally indefensible. This is the latest episode that calls into question whether this man should be the head of world football. For the sake of the game, he should go.

"We have been consistent in our calls for improved governance at FIFA and this underlines the need for that once more. We must never be complacent in our efforts to tackle racism. There is no place or excuse for it either on or off the pitch."

The "Kick It Out" group, who campaign against racism in football, said Blatter's comments were worryingly out of touch.

"Shaking hands to compensate for a racial slur is not what the game has signed up to, and trivializes the work of campaigns like Kick It Out."

Blatter clarified his comments in a statement on FIFA's website that carried a picture of him embracing Tokyo Sexwale, a prominent South African politician who has campaigned against racism.

Ferdinand responded to the picture on his Twitter account, saying: "Fifa clear up the Blatter comments with a pic of him posing with a black man..I need the hand covering eyes symbol!!"

Sepp Blatter moved to clarify his comments on racism in football via a statement on FIFA\'s website.
Sepp Blatter moved to clarify his comments on racism in football via a statement on FIFA's website.

Blatter comments spark Twitter fury

Thursday, Blatter responded to Ferdinand directly on Twitter, writing: "The 'black man' as you call him has a name: Tokyo Sexwale. He has done tremendous work against racism and apartheid in Africa.

"We have done several joint activities to raise awareness on the struggle against racism in South Africa. FIFA has a long standing and proud record in the area of anti-discrimination which will continue."

Later Ferdinand replied: "To say what you said about racism in football spoke volumes of your ignorance to the subject. If we want to stamp out racism in society a football pitch is a good place to start -- loved by billions of people around the world (sic)."

In an exclusive interview with CNN, Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore said racism was still prevalent in football, but the top tier in the English game was fighting hard to eradicate it.

He said: "Racism certainly still exists in football, albeit reduced, but there are still issues, of course there are, and we're not complacent about that.

"But I think it's a bit of a stretch to say it doesn't exist because it does."

"The English game had led and been at the forefront of reducing incidents of racist behavior -- it's totally unacceptable, everybody in the game in England understands it is totally unacceptable.

"We have that reputation, as far as I'm aware, that reputation is still intact but the game will deal with whatever is thrown against it. There is no place for it in football, let alone in England, and we will strive to eradicate it."

Sports journalist and London Evening Standard columnist Mihir Bose said Blatter's views demonstrated that he is out of touch with the modern game.

He told CNN, "This won't topple him. It will damage him further but you could argue he was damaged goods anyway.

"Blatter wants to be a showman, he wants to be in the public eye ... but these comments are incredibly insensitive and crass."

Bose said that although great strides have been made in the fight against racism in football, there is still much work to do.

"Much of the racist attitudes that saw bananas being thrown onto the field at black players has gone, but there is still a pervasive racism," he added.

"White players feel racism has been conquered but there remains a feeling of discrimination in the game which is why black players have reacted with outrage at Blatter's comments.

"They feel there is still not a level playing field -- they feel all they have fought for over the years has been devalued."

Can European soccer stamp out racism?

There have also been several instances of racism in European football this year.

Former Brazil player Roberto Carlos walked off the pitch during a game in Russia when a banana was thrown at him and Chelsea's Israeli midfielder Yossi Benayoun was taunted during a game in Malaysia.

CNN's Paul Vercammen contributed to this report.

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