LONDON (AP) — European soccer’s governing body charged Montenegro over the racist abuse of England players by its fans during a European Championship qualifier.
England players Callum Hudson-Odoi and Danny Rose reported hearing monkey chants during their team’s 5-1 victory in Podgorica which was attended by UEFA’s anti-discrimination monitors on Monday because there was judged to be a “high risk” of racism.
UEFA announced the disciplinary case against Montenegro’s soccer association on Tuesday and said the case would be heard on May 16 by its disciplinary body. Montenegro was also charged over crowd disturbances, the setting off of fireworks, objects being thrown, and stairways being blocked.
British Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman, James Slack, asked for “strong and swift action” from UEFA.
“The abuse England players were subjected to last night was disgusting and completely unacceptable,” Slack said.
In a sign of the extent of the racism problem in European soccer, UEFA announced a separate investigation on Tuesday into abuse aimed at Hudson-Odoi while playing for Chelsea. UEFA said it appointed an inspector to assess a complaint by Chelsea that the 18-year-old winger was targeted with racist insults by Dynamo Kiev fans during the London club’s 5-0 win in Ukraine in the Europa League.
In the Montenegro case, the Fare network which monitors discrimination at games will provide evidence which could lead to a partial or full stadium closure for the team’s next Euro 2020 qualifier in June against Kosovo.
“We had an observer present who picked up evidence of racial abuse,” Fare said in a statement on Tuesday. “Our monitoring team have been compiling the evidence we have before presenting it to UEFA.
“We commend the reaction of the England players involved, no human being should have to face abuse and vilification for their race or identity, something that many Montenegrins will understand from the divisive and bloody recent history of the Balkans.”
In one unsavory incident, England winger Raheem Sterling cupped his ears after scoring England’s fifth goal and Montenegro fans responded with jeers before an object — reportedly a lighter — was thrown onto the field. It was picked up by Hudson-Odoi.
Hudson-Odoi, in a post-match interview, mimicked the monkey chants he and Rose heard.
“We hope that UEFA will act decisively, the sanctions that could be applied for an offense of this kind range from a partial stadium closure to full stadium closure,” Fare said in a statement. “These sanctions are being applied regularly for offenses in UEFA competitions, often against resistance from supporter groups and football stakeholders.
“The challenge of tackling racism and other forms of discrimination in European football however remains an ongoing issue. The societal change and education that is the ultimate solution is slow to take place. Even in the countries of Western Europe where there has been investment and focus on these issues, discrimination remains a stain on football.”
The Football Association of Montenegro said it was only “alleged” there was “racist behavior of few spectators” but committed to identifying anyone deemed responsible and banning them from all matches in the country.
“At the matches played by our respective national teams until now, we have not had any incidents related to religious, gender or racial discrimination and we are fully convinced that there will not be any such incidents in the future,” the federation said. “In a multicultural and multiethnic society as Montenegro is, there is not any space for such conduct, which was the feeling most intensively experienced by our guests from England during the previous two official matches they played in Podgorica.”
The English Football Association said much work is required to eradicate racism across the game.
“The issues we saw last night are not isolated to any specific country, and despite progress English football still has its own incidents of discrimination,” the FA said.
“Our experience is that by combining both sanctions and education, whilst working alongside campaigners such as Kick It Out, real progress can be made.”
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