Football: Johansson apology in race row

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The Independent Online
Lennart Johansson, the president of Uefa, European football's governing body, made a public apology yesterday as he tried to defuse a row over alleged racist remarks he made following a recent trip to South Africa.

The row was caused by a lengthy interview Johansson gave to the Swedish daily Aftonbladet, which quoted him using the Swedish word which translates as "darky" or "blackie". Johansson was alleged to have used the phrase when discussing events at a meeting to discuss holding the 2006 World Cup in Africa.

"When I got to South Africa the whole room was full of blackies and it's dark when they sit down all together," the interview quoted Johansson as saying. "What's more it's no fun when they're angry. I thought if this lot get in a bad mood it won't be so funny."

The interview also quoted Johansson as swearing. His remarks have caused a storm of criticism in Sweden. Johansson, responding while on holiday in Germany, did not deny making them.

"I am sorry, I cannot recall swearing so many times but that doesn't affect the contents. I cannot recall using the term "blackie", but on the other hand I can't exclude it." he said. "I am not a racist. I apologise to anyone who interpreted it [the interview] as if I was one."

Johansson insited that he is not a racist. "Everyone who knows me knows I am not the way I have been described. Quite the contrary. I have many coloured friends, not the least in Fifa," he said.

Uefa moved swiftly to play down the significance of the remarks. Its spokesman, Massimo Gonnella, claimed there had been a misunderstanding between Johansson and the journalist concerned.

Gonnella said: "He did the interview, no-one is denying this. But apparently between him and the journalist there has been some kind of misunderstanding. That is where the problems are. There were probably mistakes on both sides. He has a joking manner. Maybe this was the problem, maybe the journalist didn't understand what he was trying to say."

Even so, the remarks are unlikely to help Johansson, the 67-year-old vice-president of Fifa, in his campaign to replace Joao Havelange, its 81-year-old president.