by Richard Brook
UEFA appear to have set a peculiar precedent for standards of behaviour in European football with the announcement that Manchester City are to be fined 50% more, for returning to the field of play “up to 60 seconds” late, than FC Porto were fined for their fans’ racist abuse of City striker Mario Balotelli.
City’s fine, of €30,000, relates to their Europa League match with Sporting Lisbon on March 8th. After the midway interval, during the 1-0 reverse, at the Jose Alvalade Stadium, City returned to the pitch seconds later than they were due.and it is for this reason that the club incurred the monetary sanction – equivalent to £24,740.
In itself the decision appears harsh on the Manchester side with the ridiculously short amount of time involved; however to the letter of the law, the decision to punish is at least understandable. The scale of the punishment, while miniscule as regards City’s vast wealth, is less comprehensible when viewed in terms of inevitable comparisons with the fine Porto received for the racist chanting directed at Balotelli.
On February 16th in Portugal, during City’s 2-1 win, Balotelli was subjected to chanting from the home fans that appeared to imitate sounds that a monkey might make. This chanting took place throughout the match and reached a peak when Balotelli was withdrawn from the action with 12 minutes still to play. Porto’s coach, Vitor Pereira, went on to claim that fans had in fact been chanting ‘Hulk, Hulk, Hulk’ at their own star player. Video footage appears far from convincing regarding Pereira’s defence of the supporters.
Incredulously, following the return fixture at The Etihad Stadium, Hulk again found himself at the centre of attention for reasons other than his performance. City fans’ targeted the striker, with the amusing play on his name, “You’re not incredible”. In a bizarre tit-for-tat twist Porto Communications Director, Rui Cerqueira was reported to comment: “We will take this to Uefa. It is improper behaviour. This behaviour may be normal in England but Porto want to contribute to eradicating it from sport.” Bold comments indeed in the wake of the accusations levelled, and eventually upheld by UEFA, against Porto’s own fans. The punishment was a fine two thirds the severity, that City were ordered to pay for being up to a minute late for the second half, a meagre €20,000 (approximately £16,000).
It seems inconceivable that UEFA believe that delaying the second half by 59 seconds or less is a greater offence than derogatory chanting aimed at a man based on the colour of his skin, but what other explanation is there? Of course club officials and players, are involved in Manchester City’s offence, where as the relatively uncontrollable beast that is the fan base were at fault in Porto’s wrong-doing, but surely that cannot justify the appointed sanctions. Fines are, after all, a tried and tested method of controlling fans, for example in the event of pitch invasions. Racism is horrible, unwarranted behaviour with even less place in this century than the last. Racism is a far more worthy case to be “eradicated from sport” than terrace humour and tardiness put together.
The decision leaves an unfathomable question as to how English football can ever break the apparent link between our own fans and racism, as perceived by the international football community, if it cannot be broken while our Football Association is taking a hard line on the matter, only to be undermined by UEFA with decisions such as this involving our clubs.
In recent months English football has been no stranger to race rows. Erstwhile England captain John Terry lost the armband despite having nothing proved against him, with his trial to follow the European Championships. The FA’s conviction to stand by this decision led, in part, to the departure of Fabio Capello from the role of England manager. The decision to strip Terry of the captaincy while uncertainty prevails, over the remarks he might have made to Anton Ferdinand during Chelsea’s match with Queens Park Rangers, was a bold one. It sends out a clear message to the footballing world that English Football will not tolerate racism, at whatever cost to high profile stars, or even to our national team.
A further display of FA muscle on the topic of racism was the decision to ban Liverpool’s Luis Suarez for eight matches for misconduct, in relation to his alleged repeated use of racially offensive words during clashes with Manchester United’s Patrice Evra, earlier in the season.
With all they have done to take a stand against racism the FA must surely feel badly let down, by the European governing body, in relation to the sanctions that were applied as regards Manchester City’s Europa League games. UEFA’s message, intentional or not, is that while England maybe prepared to hamstring their own national side over a racism row, they themselves take timekeeping more seriously. UEFA should be aware that if the Englishman on the street is late to an appointment they are not likely to get arrested, if he walks the streets making monkey noises at black people he, thankfully, is.
Of course it is likely that the real motivation for fines in relation to time keeping is that modern football is controlled by money, and for money read television companies. Companies who want the live unpredictability of the very event they are covering, minimized to prevent disruption to their schedule, or at the very least to sell that extra 59 seconds of waiting for yet another word from the sponsors. The commercialisation of sport is something fans just have to live with. It is that very commercialisation that renders this whole discussion a point of principal, as £25,000 is neither here nor there to Manchester City. It is the lack of perspective from UEFA that has the propensity to shock.
That night, in Portugal, there were 47,417 spectators present and Porto’s fine was around £16,000. This makes the appointed price per head to racially abuse a man for 90 minutes: 34 pence. What kind of a deterrent is that?