Is racism fine with UEFA? Eastern Europe will be watching closely

Story highlights

  • UEFA under fire for fining Man City more for being late, than Porto for fans' racist chants
  • Pressure on UEFA to crackdown on racism ahead of European Championships
  • Ugly cloud of racism continues to hang over eastern Europe, campaign groups claim
  • Fourth offense for Man City and first offense for Porto major factor amount fined

What's worse: racist monkey chants or being one minute late? The answer appears to be 60 seconds of tardiness, if the fines dished out by UEFA this week are anything to go by.

European football's governing body caused outrage by fining Manchester City €30,000 ($40,000) for running onto the pitch "less than 60 seconds late" -- which was €10,000 ($13,000) more than Porto's punishment for fans' racist abuse during a match against the English club.

Now, with just weeks until the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine -- countries with a reputation for neo-Nazi groups in the stands -- pressure is mounting on UEFA to prove it is serious about tackling racism.

The world will be watching the best teams in Europe go head-to-head, but they'll also be closely monitoring the one million fans expected to fill stadiums across the countries.

"This fine does nothing to help UEFA's reputation in relation to how it tackles discrimination in football," says Herman Ouseley, head of anti-racism group Kick It Out.

"We've seen significant punishments meted out in the past but, as an organization, the line it takes on such matters has lacked consistency.

"With the European Championships looming, and the potential flashpoints which may occur during the tournament with right-wing groups in eastern Europe, this seems to conflict with the strong anti-racism message UEFA should be promoting."

UEFA has been accused of double-standards after fining Manchester City 50% more than Porto for returning to the field late after the halftime break in a Europa League match against Sporting Lisbon last month.

The Portuguese club, in comparison, was charged €20,000 after its fans made monkey chants towards black City players Mario Balotelli and Yaya Toure during the previous round at Estadio do Dragao.

The decision raises serious questions over UEFA's commitment to tackling racism in a part of the world still struggling against extremism.

The ugly cloud of racism hanging over football in Poland and Ukraine was highlighted earlier this year in an investigation by campaign group Never Again. Its report, called "Hateful," detailed 195 individual incidents of racist and discriminatory behavior in an 18-month period from September 2009 to March 2011, a figure that underlines the amount of work that still needs to be done.

"Unfortunately it seems racism is deeply rooted in the culture of soccer, especially in Eastern Europe," Rafal Pankowski, head of the Poland-based organization, told CNN last year.

"Of course it's a broader problem, affecting countries such as Spain and Italy, but it is a real issue in Eastern Europe.

"There is goodwill at the top of UEFA to deal with the issue, but their genuine commitment does not translate to national football federation level and this is where more awareness raising needs to be done," Pankowski said.

Keeping an eye on the crowd in Poland and Ukraine will be members from Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), who'll be reporting discriminatory behavior back to UEFA.

FARE has called for greater charges for racist fans. But executive director Piara Powar was also quick to point out the strict rationale behind UEFA's fines this week -- and the need to better communicate this to the public.

"UEFA has a very clear system of sanctions. I think the reason for the disparity in fines is this is the fourth time in two seasons that Man City have been late to play," he said.

"Whereas Porto haven't been in front of UEFA in three or four years. It's an important point that hasn't come across in the media."

CNN contacted UEFA to ask for clarification of the fines, but did not receive an official response. The ruling body, however, does have a strong stance against racism, and has worked closely with FARE since 2001.

Powar said extremist fans -- known as "ultras" -- are still a major issue in eastern Europe and his team will be looking for neo-Nazi paraphernalia throughout the tournament, which runs from June 8 to July 1.

However, Powar admitted that Poland's inclusion in the European Union in 2004 had significantly helped it reduce extremism.

"This is new territory for a major competition to go to a place like Poland or Ukraine. It's fantastic it's going to a new place, but it also means there are bigger challenges we face," he said.

"Our ongoing challenge is to get the message out to countries where African players, who aren't common, are being abused."

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