Belfast Telegraph

I won't back down in racism row, says Sepp Blatter

By Robert Jones

FIFA president Sepp Blatter yesterday appeared to stand by his suggestion that racism on the pitch should be settled by a handshake and defended his record on tackling discrimination.

Blatter followed his comments made on Wednesday in a fresh TV interview yesterday where he apparently likened racist abuse on the pitch to “foul language”.

The furore sparked by comments made in earlier interviews led to influential figures in British sport to call for Blatter to resign but there looks to be little serious threat to his hold on the Fifa presidency.

Outside of Britain, the controversy has barely caused a ripple — it merited a single paragraph in French sports daily L'Equipe, and was treated similarly in Spain, Italy, Germany and the United States.

In an interview with Fox Soccer, Blatter stuck to his guns.

He said: “I can tell you in all my life in football now has been accompanied by fighting discrimination and fighting racism.

“I thought, and I'm still a very optimistic man, that after the World Cup in South Africa where it was really connecting the people, all different races, all different cultures being brought together through football, that not only in the continent of Africa but everywhere in the world that this was over.

“But still, where human beings are, there are still some moments and we can never stop going against racism, against discrimination.

“But if you also be a little bit in a sporting spirit when there is something happening on the field of play, during a match between two players — I call it foul language.

“I'm not saying about discrimination, but it's foul language, it's a foul play. At the end of the match, if you have foul play (when) the match is over you shake hands now because it's what we want to do.

“Before the match and at the end of the match everyone shall shake hands and therefore also forget what has been on the field of play.”

“But having said that, I go on with my determination and my energy to go against all discrimination and racism.”

Blatter's earlier comments led to a Twitter war of words between him and England defender Rio Ferdinand, while later in the day Joey Barton described world football’s top man as an ‘imbecile’.

Meanwhile, sports minister Hugh Robertson and players' chief Gordon Taylor called for Blatter to step down.

The furore has been heightened by the fact there are two high-profile current cases in England involving alleged racism on the pitch.

Chelsea's John Terry is being investigated by the Football Association and the police after allegations he racially abused QPR defender Anton Ferdinand, Rio's brother, and the Football Association yesterday charged Liverpool's Luis Suarez with racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra.

However, the Uruguayan Football Association (AUF) is preparing to throw its weight behind Liverpool's attempts to demonstrate that Suarez was not guilty of racially abusing Evra.

Liverpool is preparing a defence of the striker which will centre on the lingustic nuances of words derived from the Spanish word for black, negro, which Suarez admits saying to Evra and the AUF is seeking help from the Uruguayan Embassy in London and its own Foreign Office as it seeks to bolster that aspect of the case for the impending Football Association commission hearing.

The sense of indignation felt by Uruguayans was also graphically revealed when the Brighton and Hove Albion manager Gustavo Poyet yesterday accused Evra of “crying like a baby” over alleged racist comments.

Poyet is concerned that charges brought against his compatriot on Wednesday will end up setting a dangerous precedent.

“I believe [with] Luis Suarez, it's simple,” he said.

“I played football for seven years in Spain and was called everything, because I was from South America, and I never went out crying like a baby, like Patrice Evra, saying that someone said something to me.

“I'm really sad about this charge because it's going to become too easy. I can make a complaint about any opposition manager, and if I take it as far as I can he's going to get charged. Why are we going to take one person's word over another one's? It's too risky.”

Poyet, (44), who has become well acquainted with Suarez since he moved to Liverpool from Ajax in January, suggested that Evra's accusations have been accepted despite insufficient evidence, though the FA has been acutely aware of the linguistic complexities of the case. Its painstaking attempts to understand the linguistics have largely contributed to the investigation taking five weeks.

Poyet's suggestion yesterday that the FA “have no proof” is wide of the mark but the case, to be heard by a four-man commission headed by a QC, may centre on technical points of language.

Suarez has said he called Evra “something his team-mates at Manchester call him.” That word might be negrito, which means ‘little black man' in Spanish, but is used in South America both as a term of endearment and as a gentle wind-up. The substantial number of United players interviewed by the FA may feel they heard something else.

The manager, who said he wanted the commission to its work “quickly but correctly,” insisted that the charge hanging over Suarez would not affect his form “for any reason than, like everyone else, sometimes you don't play as well as you are capable of playing.”

He said: “The best way for us to judge him is that even when he's not playing well he's still a lot better than most people. We'll just move on and take it as it comes now and see what happens.”

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