Vieira calls for action over Lazio's 'racial taunts'

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The Independent Football

Patrick Vieira yesterday spoke out against the racist abuse he received during Arsenal's impressive draw against Lazio in Rome and called for Uefa, European football's ruling body, to take action.

Patrick Vieira yesterday spoke out against the racist abuse he received during Arsenal's impressive draw against Lazio in Rome and called for Uefa, European football's ruling body, to take action.

Vieira, who maintained a tight rein on his notoriously short fuse throughout Tuesday's match, claimed Sinisa Mihajlovic, Lazio's Yugoslav defender, had repeatedly called him "a f***ing black monkey". Vieira's comments were backed up by his team-mate, Gilles Grimandi, who also claimed Lazio players had spat at the Arsenal team. Mihajlovic last night responded by claiming Vieira had started the exchanges by calling him a "gypsy".

Grimandi was less successful than Vieira at keeping his temper in check and is likely to be investigated by Uefa after he appeared to strike Diego Simeone during the match. The Argentine, who needed six stitches, may be in trouble himself after reportedly waiting for Grimandi in the players' tunnel and having to be restrained by officials from attacking the Frenchman. Other players could also be punished after a fracas broke out after the final whistle which took the gloss off an excellent Arsenal performance. Eighteen months ago Christophe Dugarry missed the Uefa Cup final after being suspended following a similar incident at the end of Marseilles' semi-final in Bologna.

Uefa said yesterday it had received the report of the German referee, Helmut Krug, but would not act until receiving one from their match delegate, Pierini Lardi of Switzerland. Krug booked five players, including Fredrik Ljungberg and Martin Keown of Arsenal, but took no action against Grimandi. However, a Uefa spokesman said it was prepared to act on video evidence, as it did when Lee Dixon received a one-match suspension two years ago for "play-acting" during a tie with Lens. Uefa also stressed it was against any form of racist behaviour but, as Vieira ruefully admitted, on-pitch abuse, if not heard by the referee, is hard to prove.

Vieira said: "When a fan does it it is stupid but you can do something about it. They can be identified. When a player does it it is unbelievable but difficult to prove. It was the worst abuse I have ever heard, even when I have had problems in the Premiership it has been nothing like this. It never stopped from the moment the teams were shaking hands at the start.

"He did it in the first game at Highbury and I thought maybe it was just because we won the game that he was upset. I told him he'd said enough. What is really surprising is it has come from a player who is a foreigner in Italy. I asked some of the other Lazio players if they could hear it and they apologised and said he's stupid, he's always like that. You could see in his eyes that he was really thinking about what he said. It was very hurtful and difficult to accept when another pro player says things like that.

"I feel I have to speak out about this because something must be done. You have to tell the truth. It cannot to go on like this. Whether you are black, white or yellow, things like this should not go on in the year 2000."

The incident, worryingly, is not a one-off. Mihajlovic is alleged to have abused Patrick Kluivert in Euro 2000, the Dutchman responding by scoring a hat-trick in the Netherlands' 6-1 quarter-final win.

Although Mihajlovic last night admitted he had referred to Vieira's colour, he denied that the insults were racist. The club also issued a statement condemning "the mocking chorus of a few hundred imbeciles" who jeered Arsenal's black players.

Racist abuse is also commonplace in matches involving Eastern European teams, especially Yugoslav ones. Last month Red Star Belgrade were fined £15,000 after Leicester City's Ade Akinbiyi and Andy Impey were abused by Yugoslav supporters in a Uefa Cup tie, while earlier in the year Emile Heskey was abused by Yugoslav spectators during an Under-21 international.

Nwankwo Kanu and Vieira were abused by the Czech crowd when Arsenal played in Prague earlier this season and Sol Campbell was abused in Bulgaria last summer while playing for England.