Uefa adopted an unusually swift and determined stance in the fight against racism last night when it imposed a five-match ban on the Wisla Krakow defender Nikola Mijailovic for abusing Blackburn Rovers striker Benni McCarthy.
European football's governing body had received a complaint from the Ewood Park club over allegations that a confrontation between McCarthy and Mijailovic at the end of last week's Uefa Cup tie in Poland, which Rovers won 2-1, had been sparked by racist comments from the Serb.
The abuse was also detailed in the official report of the referee Stefan Johannesson and last night, at the conclusion of its own investigation into Blackburn's complaint, Uefa suspended the defender from all matches under its jurisdiction for five games.
"Benni was upset because a number of comments were made to him during the game," Mark Hughes, the Blackburn manager, said after last Thursday's match. "The comments were of a racist nature and they have no place in football or in society."
The 24-year-old Mijailovic has until Monday to appeal against the decision, but Uefa - who described the racist comments as a serious breach of the fair play principle and a serious threat to sport and its ethical values - is unlikely to relent as it reacts to criticism that it has treated the problem too leniently in the past.
Last week Rio Ferdinand added his voice for stronger punishments for racism, including ground closures instead of meagre fines for clubs and lifetime bans for individuals.
Football's anti-racism campaign, Kick It Out, welcomed a development it hopes signals a shift in attitude from the game's hierarchy.
Piara Powar, director of Kick It Out, said: "This is excellent news. This is the type of move that shows that European football is serious about tackling racism. A ban for five matches is strong stuff. It is the sort of sanction that people across Europe will think 'there is a message to be learned here'.
"The concern in the past has been that many incidents have gone unpunished. It is time we were able to demonstrate that racism is being challenged. This guy [Mijailovic] has been nailed in the right way.
"It seems that Blackburn and officials were able to produce eye-witness evidence, allowing action to be taken."Reuse content