Read through the charge sheet that Uefa produced for the Serbian Football Association and there is not one mention of racism or racially aggravated language. "Improper conduct" is the bloodless phrase that the European governing body choose to use when the world is crying out for them to just damn well call racism, racism.
It was that, pure and simple. The England Under-21 players and staff heard the abuse. The Football Association, hardly an organisation known for its knee-jerk statements, described the abuse players faced in Krusevac on 16 October as "disgraceful" and "unacceptable". "Our players and staff were subjected to racial abuse," said Alex Horne, the general secretary in the immediate aftermath.
Yet from Uefa, there was no such acknowledgement. It handed out bans to two coaches totalling four years, albeit with half of those sentences suspended. It dished out 12 matches-worth of bans to four different Serbia players. Uefa ordered that – big deal – the next Serbia Under-21 game be played behind closed doors. Then came the fine.
You might have thought that someone at Uefa would have remembered that Nicklas Bendtner was given a €100,000 (£81,000) fine for his Euro 2012 Paddy Power endorsed underpants (another mention for the bookies – money well spent). You might have thought that someone at Uefa would deduce that the €80,000 (£65,000) fine for Serbia would immediately be compared to Bendtner's much larger penalty.
Indeed, within seconds of the verdict being released, Twitter was awash with comparisons and immediately, any credibility that Uefa might have was blown away. In the sliding scale of its punishments Bendtner's pants were judged more offensive than monkey chants and racial abuse. On what planet are these people living? And who at Uefa thought they would get away with it?
Even the most junior football administrator would have realised that Uefa needed a stronger sanction than the one they gave for the unlicensed undergarments. This was a serious allegation against a country that has proved a repeat offender – and the world was watching. Uefa had its moment and it let it pass by.
As Rio Ferdinand and his brother Anton piled in on Twitter and the FA itself criticised the Uefa sanction, so Uefa looked further out of touch. The critics might point to Ferdinand's £45,000 fine for his "choc ice" tweet to Ashley Cole. Or the FA's four-match suspension and £220,000 fine for John Terry. But Uefa were facing a whole raft of offenders and their response was laughable.
Whatever, criticism the FA might take in the backlash, it handled the Luis Suarez and Terry cases with as much good sense and strength of mind as could reasonably be expected. It has not been afraid to identify what it believed to be racism, nor has it stopped short of uttering the word in judgement. Neither verdicts could be considered perfect but they offered a lot more clarity than Uefa has managed.
The FA promised it would stand on a point of principle against the treatment meted out to its players in Serbia and it has done so. Uefa will not like that, and it will not help whatever new relationships the FA is trying to build since the failed 2018 World Cup bid two years ago. But some things are more important than that, and if it costs the FA another Champions League or a future Euro 2020 final then so be it.Reuse content