Boris Johnson cannot criticise us over racism after calling Muslim women letterboxes, UEFA president says

Head of European football accuses prime minister of hypocrisy when he has not been 'punished' for his own notorious comments

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 03 December 2019 10:04 GMT
Boris Johnson confronted with his political record during Question Time

The head of European football has accused Boris Johnson of hypocrisy for criticising racism in the game given his notorious comments about Muslims.

Aleksander Ceferin, the president of governing body UEFA, admitted it needed to do more to tackle abusive fans – but said he would not take criticism from the prime minister.

“When a politician that calls women with burkas post boxes or mailboxes, then says publicly that he condemns UEFA, do you reply to that? Do you believe it's honest? Come on,” he protested.

Speaking to the Mirror, Mr Ceferin said: “When you see high politicians, prime ministers, when you see presidents of republics who are racists, who were sexist, who were homophobes, you see that something is wrong.

“Because if you see an idiot from the streets shouting you say, 'okay, put him in prison' and that's it.

“But when politicians start speaking, they are not punished. And we have that in Europe more and more.”

In October, Mr Johnson told UEFA to get tough on racism after monkey chants were directed at England's footballers during a European Championship qualifier in Bulgaria.

Yet, during an election TV debate, he refused to apologise for describing Muslim women wearing the veil as looking like letterboxes and bank robbers.

Instead, he denied that newspaper column had been offensive – claiming it could only be “made to seem offensive” if taken out of context – and said: “I defend my right to speak out.”

The prime minister faced a hostile audience over his past newspaper columns, with the accusation that he had “personally contributed” to rampant racism in Britain.

During the special BBC Question Time, he was also reminded of his descriptions of black people as “tribal warriors with watermelon smiles” and “flagwaving piccaninnies”.

Mr Johnson has been dogged by the articles he wrote as a journalist, including the recent revelation that he wrote that seeing “a bunch of black kids” scared him.

There was loud applause when the prime minister was accused of contributing to the problem of “racist rhetoric” being “rife in this country”.

Mr Ceferin was interviewed to the backdrop of the anger of footballers and fans, who have accused it of failing black players by not punishing clubs and countries with racially-abusive fans.

Black players have started walking off the pitch in protest at the officials' inability to protect them.

Mr Ceferin has promised to make UEFA more accountable, and its 10-man, all-white disciplinary committee more diverse, to better stand up for footballers enduring racist abuse.

“Everything is ready, so we can put in additional members of the disciplinary committee, as now it's a fixed number,” he said.

“It will happen in March. The statutes will be changed. Then, a week later, we can do it.”

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