Arsenal last night put the onus on to Uefa to prove its anti-racism campaign is genuine after the game's governing body in Europe had denied a charge of hypocrisy laid by Patrick Vieira.
The Arsenal captain had claimed Uefa was not serious about eradicating the ugly scar on the sport after the Gunners' Champions' League defeat to Valencia on Wednesday. During the match Vieira and other black players from the London club were racially abused.
"Uefa are hypocrites," Vieira said. "They keep saying they will do something about it but all they are doing is fining clubs £2,000-£3,000 and nothing really happens. It is just words. I don't think anything will be done about it – it will never change. We have to deal with it and we've come to expect it. We were expecting it in Valencia. It is not the first time that we received it and it is not going to be the last."
In response, Mike Lee, Uefa's communications director, said it was up to the clubs to help Uefa. "If the matter is to be taken further it is very important that there is an official complaint from the club and players involved," Lee said. "It needs to be reported to Uefa and not just to the media."
Within hours Arsenal said that they would ask Uefa to investigate. They added: "We are sure that Uefa will look into the matter thoroughly and reach an appropriate decision."
Uefa's record was defended by Lee, who said: "Patrick is entitled to his view but I think the criticism of Uefa is unjustified. Penalties have been much harsher than Patrick has suggested and one forthcoming Euro 2004 qualifying game will be played behind closed doors with no fans present as a punishment for racism."
That will be Slovakia v Liechtenstein on 2 April, after Ashley Cole and Emile Heskey were abused during England's visit to Bratislava. The decision was made by Uefa's appeal board after the disciplinary committee had been far more lenient. The appeal board also fined PSV Eindhoven €34,000 (£24,000) after fans abused Arsenal in an earlier Champions' League game. This, though, is subject to legal action by the Dutch club angry at the original fine being trebled.
Yet Vieira's charge has substance. Uefa's current anti-racism campaign, which included a recent conference in London, is long overdue and, in a competition in which clubs receive €1.7m for qualifying and a further €680,000 per victory, a €34,00 fine is a pittance. Ground closures have an impact, though in a group context they could also punish the team whose players have been abused – if Slovakia had been ordered to play Turkey behind closed doors it could have been to England's detriment.
At least Uefa is belatedly addressing the issue, and the verdict of today's hearing into Christian Vieri's alleged racial abuse of Newcastle's Lomana LuaLua is much awaited. But, in many stadiums across Europe, racial abuse is far too prevalent. Valencia fans have already abused Liverpool's Djimi Traoré and Heskey, without sanction, this season. After that match, though, there was no official complaint made by either player or the English club.
This time Uefa will have a report from Arsenal to study as well as those from Kyros Vassaras, the excellent Greek referee, and Mirceu Sandu, the Romanian match observer. They should also call John Carew as a witness. Valencia's Norwegian match-winner remonstrated with his own fans, indicating that by abusing Arsenal's non-white players they were also insulting him. He said: "Patrick was very angry about what happened – and I was angry too. I said sorry to him for it and also to Thierry. I am good friends with them both and I felt bad for them. The problem is what can I do? I am just as frustrated about it as them."
* Dennis Bergkamp was fined £7,500 by the Football Association yesterday and given a reprimand and warning over his future conduct after he admitted elbowing Lee Bowyer during Arsenal's 3-1 Premiership win over West Ham on 19 January.
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