UEFA president says players will be booked if they leave the field in protest
Michel Platini responds to comment by Mario Balotelli about racist abuse
Platini says it is up to referees to take action if there are such problems
There are fears that crowds in Ukraine and Poland will target black players
Football stars upset by racist abuse at Euro 2012 must let match officials deal with the problem, insists UEFA president Michel Platini.
The buildup to the tournament, which kicks off in Warsaw on Friday, has been marred by reports highlighting incidents of racial violence in the East European nations.
The families of two of England’s black players, Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain and Theo Walcott, will not be traveling to Ukraine and Poland, while Italy striker Mario Balotelli says he will walk off the pitch if he is targeted by racists.
Balotelli has had such problems while playing for Italian club Inter Milan and latterly with England’s Manchester City – UEFA fined Porto last season after the Portuguese team’s fans abused the striker during a Europa League match.
However, Platini told reporters that players will be booked if they decide to take matters into their own hands and leave the field in protest.
“It will be a referee’s decision to stop the match. It’s not a player — Mr. Balotelli – who’s in charge of refereeing. Refereeing is a referee’s job,” said the former France international, who won Euro ’84 as a player.
“It is a referee’s job to stop the match and he is to do so if there are any problems of this kind. I count on the fans from Western and Eastern Europe to come to participate in a great football feast. If I am here as a UEFA chairman and you all are here it is because we want this to be a football feast, not a problem.”
European football’s governing body has been continuing to collaborate with anti-racism groups for the finals.
Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) will provide 30 international monitors, with at least two at each of the tournament’s 31 games.
The Warsaw-based Never Again Association is also involved with the program.
“This is the first major football event to be held in Eastern Europe in the modern era and it is one that we have been anticipating for a long time,” its co-ordinator Rafal Pankowski said on FARE’s website.
“We have well documented issues with discrimination in football but I am also confident of the strong messages that will be sent out, and the contingencies we have to deal with problems.
“There is also no doubt that the majority of the people of our countries will do their best to welcome visitors regardless of their background or nationality.
“Our biggest achievement has been to start a dialogue and to raise difficult issues, a process that will contribute to the social development of both our countries. We have a close working relationship with UEFA and are proud to be implementing partners of the ‘Respect Diversity – Football Unites’ campaign.”